Outfitting Small Town USA
Mar 12, 2015
Area Boutique Withstands Economic Ebbs, Flows
Small businesses are accredited with continuously pushing the economy, even in tight times. They’re also a reservoir of opportunity for people with entrepreneurial spirit and the will to work hard.
Georgia Brown, an accomplished owner of two small businesses, The Velvet Pumpkin, 920 Main Street, Lexington, Mo., and Gigi’s, 922 Main Street, Lexington, Mo., has had that passionate spirit for over 30 years. And she recently shared her story as a small business owner with The Buckner Clarion.
Prior to starting her first business, Brown married an airman and expected to travel as a result. When her husband was stationed in Washington, D.C., Brown discovered a local shop and fell in love instantly. “I would go in and look around, and everything was appealing to me. So I worked there part time and got the real urge to someday have a shop just like it,” she said. Brown recalls telling the shop’s owner that she dreamed to one day own a shop similar to his. “He told me, ‘Just remember – location, location, location,’” she said.
After moving to Knob Noster, Mo. to be close to Whiteman Air Force Base, one of Brown’s friends approached her about opening a shop. Together, the ladies successfully ran their shop in Knob Noster’s downtown until both of their husbands retired, initiating yet another move for Brown.
Brown and her husband made the final move to Lexington, where she knew her dream shop could thrive. However, because the town was such an established shopping destination, she feared her business would be an intrusion to the other owners.
After speaking with a neighboring shop owner, Brown was assured she would be welcomed in the town because all of them had the same goal in mind - to draw people to the community.
She quickly discovered that the way to attract the most customers and stay afloat was by being personable. “Mine, and all the other shops, sort of have the owner’s personality,” she said. “I think that’s what attracts people - what each one of us bring to our shop.”
The shop in Washington, D.C. is what inspired Brown most to become a small business owner. She described small business ownership as something simply in her blood.
“I enjoyed the people and putting things together so much that I knew I was meant to do this.”
The Velvet Pumpkin carries more traditional antique furniture as well as a home décor area downstairs equipped with primitive and garden items. Brown also stocks The Velvet Pumpkin with more modern accessories to compliment all of the antique furniture.
Next door to her antique shop is her ladies’ boutique, Gigi’s, which Brown said was sort of a fluke. “I started carrying a few clothing items in the back at The Velvet Pumpkin and it was more successful than I thought, so I opened up a separate store.”
The name for her boutique has an endearing origin. “My grandkids had always called me ‘Gigi,’ short for ‘Grandma Georgia,’ and one day my granddaughter said, ‘Well, Gigi, why don’t you just call your shop Gigi’s?’” Thanks to her granddaughter’s suggestion, the majority of Brown’s customers refer to her as Gigi.
Originally, she said her business strategy was based on intuition. “Business plans are probably very important, but I didn’t have one - I just winged it. And I’m not saying that’s the right way to go, because I really should have gotten more into it and been a little bit more intelligent on that part of it, but it was just fun and it just flowed.”
Brown also doesn’t dwell on the use of digital marketing, preferring to market her business through traditional mediums. Aside from sending out e-mail newsletters, she sticks to advertising in the local newspaper and sampling what she sells.
“In Gigi’s, all the girls and I wear what we sell, and that sort of goes along with how I do things over in the antique store,” she said. Pairing items in a sensible yet desirable manner is what she said gets her customers invested in both of her shops.
Her cool approach to management and customer interaction is what Brown uses to generate more traffic inside her shops. “I like to let people look on their own and browse,” she said. “I don’t like following customers around, so I tell the girls that help me to use that method, too.”
Being a small business owner for around 30 years has delivered a fair share of highs and lows.
When asked what the most rewarding part of owning her own business is, she said it’s the people she has met and the connections she has made. She also said it’s gratifying to make positive contributions to the community. “I feel that I’ve added something to the downtown that makes people want to come visit the town and support it.”
On the other hand, the unfavorable economy has been the main obstacle Brown has faced during her time as a business owner. “The economy for small businesses has been terrible, and over the last three years, I’d say it’s really gone down a lot,” she said. “I just want to see that pass because the economy has really been a set-back for everyone, I think.”
Brown recalled being ecstatic when she first opened up shop in Lexington because business was booming. Now, she relies heavily on outside traffic from Kansas City and surrounding areas to keep her businesses running. “The draw from Kansas City and the surrounding communities was very supporting to me then, and it still is now,” she said.
As for the future, Brown said she has no desire to expand. “I’m not at a time in my life to expand any so I’m really just looking to stay open and be able to continue on for a while longer.”
Finally, Brown has uplifting words for other small business owners who may be struggling to get their businesses launched. “Just hang in there, but don’t go off the deep end and get into something you won’t be able to get yourself back out of,” she said. “You’ve got to have a little bit of a backup plan to stay open when things get rough.”