Spring 2008
Wacky Stores, Wild Success By Poornima Apte

It came as quite the surprise.

When she was ready to open the second location of her store, 5 Wacky Women, in Baltimore, Aimee Smith already knew the clientele would be different from the one she serves in her other location, in the suburb of Cockeysville, MD. What she wasn’t completely ready for was just how different the two sets of customers would be. Smith says the Baltimore branch of 5 Wacky Women sees many gay couples and young professionals, while the suburban store serves a more traditional base of bedroom communities. “The Hampden store [in Baltimore] serves a much more diverse clientele: We have gay couples, artists, young professionals, families who have just had babies,” Smith says. “The Cockeysville store serves more established families who have lived here for a long time.”

The markedly different clientele in the two stores has had Smith plan for more targeted marketing and advertising strategies. “You can’t just use the same ideas in both stores,” she says. “I have to come up with a plan that will work for the more urban, younger mentality in the Hampden store.”

A strong start

Smith had strong experience in retail management for 13 years before she decided to open her own store in 2006. She worked for large department stores and then stayed home with her children. Once they reached high school, Smith decided it was time to launch a new venture. Smith opened the first branch of 5 Wacky Women in Cockeysville, a bedroom community.

The store’s name originated because Smith and four of her friends used to get together to make and sell handcrafted products at local shows. After sharing many successes, Smith decided on the name 5 Wacky Women as a way of remembering her friendships. As it turns out, the name has been one of the best business decisions Smith has made. Customers recognize and remember the name. “Customers will come in and ask me, ‘Are you one of the five wacky women?'” Smith says.

“It’s great marketing for the store.” While Smith occasionally stocks products made by her friends, her business has grown to the point where she needs a larger, more assorted merchandise mix. She shops many national trade shows.

Branching out

After finding success with the first store, Smith soon decided to open a new location. An opportunity presented itself in September, and Smith decided to open another branch of 5 Wacky Women in the Hampden area of Baltimore. Once a neighborhood comprising largely working-class families, the Hampden neighborhood went through an economic downturn in the ’80s before it revitalized itself as a place for artists and trendsetters. At 800 square feet, the newer branch of 5 Wacky Women is smaller and located on a side street.

Smith’s store in Cockeysville is located amid a bunch of shops, and people often spend a significant chunk of their day in the area. “These are all destination stores,” she says.

Smith has reached out to her customers in both communities. She uses email marketing regularly and in Cockeysville has bought advertisements in the directories of local schools. Baltimore has a more organized chamber of commerce, and Smith expects she will take part in it actively. She participated in the mayor’s parade (called HonFest) in Baltimore last year as one of the judges for the many events that were hosted that day.

Different stores—different approaches

Many of the products in the two branches of 5 Wacky Women are similar: accessories, jewelry (Troll beads), bath-and-body products, and books with personality. Smith uses furniture as her stores’ displays and buys these items all year round. Smith says she is always on the hunt for gently used furniture that can be reworked. One of her staff members is an expert at repainting furniture.

In addition to a difference in marketing strategies, each store has a slightly different merchandise mix. So even though many of the products sold at both 5 Wacky Women stores are similar, there is a significant chunk that is tailored to each location. The clientele in the Hampden store has asked for more environmentally friendly products, so Smith has worked to stock her store with “green” merchandise.

There are subtler variations in the stores’ merchandise mix. For the Hampden store, Smith recently bought a hip, retro line of chairs in bright, solid colors: bright green, pink and royal blue, merchandise that would appeal to younger tastes. Smith modified the buying slightly for the Cockeysville store, opting to go for brightly colored Adirondack chairs (which she believes appeal to more suburban folk) and by displaying these outside the store as an enticement for customers to take a peek inside.

Smith says keeping the merchandise fresh and appealing to both sets of clientele has been one of her biggest challenges. “People know they don’t want to see the same things over and over again, and at the same time we want items that have personality,” Smith says.

The merchandise must also satisfy the brand image of the store. “The store is about having a good time; we have something fun and fresh to offer at all times,” Smith says. “It’s great to see and hear so many people chuckle as they check out the different products,” she adds.

Smith is confident in the two-store model and committed to making both work. She credits her staff of six for incredibly hard work in making the stores successes. “This looks like it’s going to be a difficult year, but we’ll weather the storm,” Smith says. She is encouraged and knows she is doing something right when she sees so many repeat customers in her stores. Smith uses email marketing campaigns to generate constant traffic in her stores. “It’s great to have new customers too, but seeing the repeat customers come in has been great,” Smith says. “These guys really are the meat and potatoes for any business.”

Poornima Apte

Poornima Apte is an award-winning experienced freelance writer and editor. Learn more at wordcumulus.com.

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