ON A ROLL
ROLLING FIXTURES AND A COZY ATMOSPHERE HELP PAMELA’S BOUTIQUE CATER TO SHOPPERS.
Byline: Kathryn Hopper
Pamela Cott wants her upscale Coppell boutique to feel like a home away from home.
That’s why she and her husband and business partner, Peter Cott, put in an imitation fireplace, a sofa, a refrigerator stocked with Diet Cokes and a children’s play area complete with VCR.
“We had it designed to feel like a ski lodge or a lake home,” she said. “You can come in, grab a drink from the fridge, relax on the sofa, make a call from the dressing room phone.”
The couple opened the shop, called Pamela’s Boutique, last September in Coppell, the fast-growing suburb just north of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The grand opening was the culmination of years of work, as the couple scouted for just the right site offering easy access for their target customer: fashion-conscious minivan moms.
“We’re nothing but a 7-Eleven for clothing,” said Peter Cott, a certified public accountant who helps manage the store, while also working as an onsite retail consultant. “We’re a convenience store. There’s nothing wrong with that; you’ve got to be convenient for your customer.”
With its exposed brick walls and eclectic merchandise mix of candles, clothes and funky accessories, Pamela’s Boutique feels like a suburban version of hip retailer Anthropologie.
Sweaters are displayed in hand-painted armoires, and silver and turquoise crosses decorate the walls. A projection lamp superimposes the words “Pamela’s Boutique” in white light on the shop’s wood floors.
“My favorite thing about the store is the fixtures; they move,” said Pamela Cott as she wheeled around one of the store’s 7-by-4-foot wood-and-stainless steel racks.
The couple designed the racks with the help of Venezia, a commercial furniture manufacturer in Santa Monica, Calif. The wheeled racks make it easy to quickly transform the 2,700-square-foot shop’s layout for trunk shows and special displays.
City codes prevented a working fireplace in the store, so the Cotts built a fake one; its stone facade’s a handy display for sweaters and shirts. With the needs of their target customer in mind, the Cotts built a play area for children so that moms can browse while their youngsters watch videos or play games.
“I gave up my office so the kids would have a place to play,” Pamela Cott said of the small area housed in the back corner of the shop. “On Saturdays, the room gets packed.”
While Pamela Cott worked to create the feel of the store, Peter took on the nitty-gritty tasks of buying the building materials and fixtures. He kept costs down by buying discontinued ceramic tiles for the bathroom and trolled the Internet to find lights at wholesale prices. The couple didn’t intend to get a 26-cubic-foot-capacity refrigerator to house refreshments, but found one at half price, so they snagged it.
Because the Cotts wanted to maximize selling space, the store’s stockroom consists of two small clothing racks by the bathroom. That means the store can take deliveries right on the selling floor.
“The ladies really love watching us unpack things,” Peter Cott said. “It makes them feel like they’re part of the store when they see things come right out of the box. It also keeps the staff on the floor, ready to respond to customers. The only drawback is there’s no place to eat lunch.”
The Cotts have been in the retail business for more than 17 years and married for 13. Pamela opened her first boutique in Irving, Tex., in 1984 with the help of her parents, whom the couple then bought out a few years later.
Peter Cott grew up in the textile and apparel trade as the grandson of Chester Roth, one of the co-founders of North Carolina hosiery manufacturer Kayser-Roth. After earning an accounting degree and working for Ernst & Young, he opened his own retail consulting firm.
The couple wanted to open a second store location and noted the real estate boom in Coppell, Tex., where home values average around $200,000 and most residents are young families raising kids.
“Coppell has some great demographics,” Peter Cott said. “It’s a self-contained place. The people here tend to stay in town to shop and run errands.”
They also liked the location because competition was limited. The closest clothing stores are a 15-minute drive north to Vista Ridge Mall or a half-hour to the Dallas Galleria. There’s also the Grapevine Mills Mall outlet center less than 10 miles away.
The Cotts started looking for a location in Coppell several years ago.
They knew they wanted to be along Denton Tap Road, the main drag through the town. Ever mindful of the minutiae, Peter Cott even wanted a shop that faced north or south because an eastern or western exposure means higher air-conditioning costs in the hot Texas summers.
When they finally saw the ideal spot, nestled in a new strip center between a Tom Thumb grocery store and Starbucks, they contacted the leasing company, but it took two years from that initial call to the grand opening, as the Cotts dealt with city code issues and contractor snafus.
The couple continues to operate their 2,000-square-foot store in the Las Colinas area of Irving, which has a much older clientele and carries lines such as Joan Vass, but the Cotts say they are enjoying the different clientele in the Coppell location.
Peter Cott smiled as a young mom with a toddler in tow entered the store and began perusing a rack of Custo Barcelona shirts.
“That’s our typical customer,” he said. “She’s a size four, but not the same size four she was before she had kids. She may need a slightly different fit. We have to know what will work for her.”
The Cotts strive to carry a mix of casual, but fresh boutique lines and have found success selling labels such as KATE and Jax. They will drop a designer if they spot the line in a department store or an off-price retailer such as Saks Off Fifth located at Grapevine Mills Mall. Sometimes, they will even ship back merchandise if a discounter is selling it at the same time.
As for maintaining profit margins, Peter Cott said, “We won’t carry lines such as Dana Buchman or Ellen Tracy. They have gorgeous clothing, but you have to knock 25 percent off the price to compete with the department stores. We try to maintain 50 percent margins.”
Thanks to Peter Cott’s experience with computer point-of-sale systems and inventory software, his inventory strategy generally is to carry only three sizes of any one design.
“If you carry any more than that, you start to look like Dillards,” he said.
While they are careful buyers, like every retailer, the Cotts sometimes make mistakes. Peter Cott holds up a white wool sweater with black applique that was ordered for Christmas, but remained unsold, even at half off on Valentine’s Day.
“We won’t discount below 50 percent because we don’t want to train our customer that way,” he said. “If it doesn’t sell, we donate it or clear it out to make way for new inventory.”
The store carries a limited number of accessories such as Cara Couture vintage-fabric handbags and jewelry by Jeep Collins. The merchandise mix also includes Christian-oriented greeting cards, which have enjoyed brisk sales.
Soon, handpainted furniture will be part of the business, too. So many customers have wanted to buy the store’s armoires, crafted by Daniel Marsh of Shoestring Furniture in Grandview, Tex., that the Cotts have decided to sell them.
Business at the boutique started out strong after the grand opening, but the slowing economy has dampened sales in the last month or two, Peter Cott said. He said the store should be able meet its goal of turning merchandise eight times and hitting sales of $750,000.
The Cotts are optimistic that their store’s convenience, amenities and unique offerings will keep their core clients coming back.
“Today, clothing is a marginal purchase,” Peter Cott said. “Customers will go to Target and buy a knockoff and not think a thing about it. There’s no stigma anymore. So you have to give them something fun, something fresh, and you have to make it easy.”