DESIGNING DIVAS
AMERICASMART SHOWROOM OWNERS AND MANUFACTURERS EARLIER THIS YEAR CAST THEIR BALLOTS FOR THE DIVA AWARDS. HERE’S A WHO’S-WHO OF THE RETAIL WINNERS.

Byline: Louise Barr / Rebecca Kleinman

A MIX OF THIS AND THAT
Women’s Betterwear, Multidoor
Potpourri, Atlanta
Julie Routenberg knows about risk. She opened the first Potpourri store on the old square in Roswell in 1976, and because of its suburban location naysayers thought she was out of her mind. But the store did a brisk business, offering fashionable bridge women’s wear.
Thirteen years later, Routenberg shuttered the Roswell location and moved the shop to Sandy Springs. In 1985, Rutenberg opened a second location, a 2,200-square-foot unit in Buckhead.
Routenberg stocks her shops with a selection she describes as “broad and wide.” The store’s lines include Lafayette 148, Peter Cohen, Michael Kors, Bernard Zins and Jax. Potpourri also carries accessories.
Routenberg said the store’s typical customer is between 35 and 55 years old and “loves clothes and appreciates a certain classic look, but with an edge and with flair.”
Both stores carry similar merchandise, although the Sandy Springs unit sells more casualwear, Rutenberg said.
Potpourri does not place large orders with vendors, instead placing orders when customers make special requests.
“We do a big special-order business,” Rutenberg said. “We are very accommodating, we want to make sure the customer gets what they want.”
Customer service is Routenberg’s credo. “I truly believe we excel in that,” she said. “There’s nothing we won’t do.”
She said customer loyalty is one of her store’s most important assets. When Routenberg places orders with vendors, she keeps certain clients in mind, placing Post-It notes on order forms with the names of a handful customers who would suit the items.
Routenberg is constantly on the hunt for new vendors, particularly those that offer off-the-wall pieces but keeping within her store’s style.

Retailing in Holy Matrimony
Women’s Contemporary, Multidoor
Jami’s, Naples, Fla.
Husband-and-wife retailers Fredi and Ed Verdesca know their customer. After all, as owners of a specialty chain with 11 Florida locations, they have spent nearly 30 years studying the subject.
The Verdesca’s empire spans most of the state from the Naples headquarters and Bonita Bay up to Destin and across to Boca Raton and West Palm Beach. With two divisions, Jami’s is an updated misses’ concept with four stores, and Just Comfortable Clothing (JCC) has a more casual mix, with three stores. The remaining four branches are a combination of both.
“We started with a small boutique on Fifth Avenue South, Naples’s main drag, in 1971. “We’re still on the same street, but in our fourth location now,” said Fredi.
Their long-term success in selling women’s wear, accessories and shoes is somewhat of a wonder, in that none of it was really ever planned. Ed met Fredi, a fashion illustrator at Filene’s, while working at IBM in Boston. None had any prior retail experience when they dove into the world of children’s clothing with their first boutique.
“It just seemed appropriate since we had some of our own,” said Fredi. Jami’s is a combination of their sons’ names, Jay and Michael. Switching to resort- and lifestyle-driven women’s lines, their refined collection includes Due Per Due, Peter Nygard, Olsen, August Silk and Mycra Pak for Jami’s and Amanda Gray, MAC and private label for JCC.
As the winner of the contemporary category, Verdesca’s defines her look as updated and modern rather than contemporary, which can have a junior connotation.
Though they also shop Dallas and New York, 54 resources, basically all of their bread-and-butter brands, are written in Atlanta.
“When you go to New York, they don’t know you, unlike regional reps who really support stores. I attribute much of the success of our business to these professional relationships,” said Fredi, adding that five buyers, two who have been with the company for eight years, also contribute greatly.
Much of buying focuses on accessories, which account for 20 percent of the budget. Art Effects and A. Marinelli shoes, Maxx of New York handbags and Mei Fa’s semiprecious, beaded jewelry are major lines. Pashminas were another big hit last year. “It will be hard to replace those, especially with all the beautiful colors. I hope it becomes a mainstay,” said Fredi.
When writing any inventory, buyers keep in mind a 40-plus, modern woman who travels extensively and most likely lives elsewhere during the summer. “She’s sophisticated and stylish, with her own look,” said Fredi. Discovering that 2000 customers were driving across the state from Florida’s east coast, the Verdescas decided to enter that market two years ago. The couple plans to sit tight this year and celebrate three decades in business.