Have you ever dreamed of opening your own brick and mortar store, filled with beautiful treasures and one-of-a-kind items, curated by you? Whitney and Michele, a mother daughter team from Atlantic Beach, Florida didn’t just imagine it— they made it happen, when they opened their modern beach boutique, Sailors Siren, in 2016. Without a retail background, they relied on their love of home decor + shopping and coupled it with research and dedication, to make their dream a reality. Through this interview, we’re shown that when it comes to success, passion and perseverance always trumps experience.
What are your backgrounds? What were you doing before Sailors Siren came along?
Michele was a ballerina turned fitness fanatic who owns a personal training business and Whit worked for various ad agencies for the last 10 years. Neither of us had any retail experience so most of what we’ve done and accomplished we’ve made up as we’ve gone along. We certainly did our homework and sought advice from business owners we knew and admired, but have very much set our own path.
What made you want to want to start your own business?
We both love shopping for our homes, usually together, and really started to notice that our favorite stores online and along the East Coast were starting to blend together. We kept saying to each other, “we could do this”, we could open a store that offers more unique items along the same beachy theme, but be so different!
Did you have any hesitations or setbacks after your business launched? How did you find solutions and overcome them?
When we started, to be safe and test the waters, our focus was pop-up shops supported by an online ecommerce site. We quickly learned that pop-ups were harder to talk people into and a tremendous amount more work than we’d imagined. It’s no joke being a shop on the road where you have to set up and break down so often. A few months into this model, we really started to mull over how and when we’d transition to opening a brick and mortar instead of solely relying on pop-ups.
Can you identify a moment on your journey that felt like a turning point in your business? How did it come to be?
About a year before we were really ready or had it in our plans to open a brick and mortar, our current location became available. A friend had heard this rumor that the space was opening up, and in just 6 weeks we hunted down the lead, took over the lease, built out our shop and opened! None of which was in the plan for either of our lives in the Spring of 2016, but we did it and we’re thrilled we jumped in!
Inside the shop
You’ve curated such a beautiful collection of goods. How do you go about finding the pieces that you sell?
We scour social media and design publications and are constantly on the lookout when we travel. The goal is always to find local, Southern, handmade, fair trade and incredibly unique pieces that align with the salty, Southern life. We also love a good boots on the ground experience and are always hunting for new makers at markets and festivals. The maker movement makes quality products very accessible, it’s just ensuring they’re right for us and our customer base.
In today’s “online world,” brick and mortar stores have become not just a place to buy stuff, but a shopping experience. How do you get in the mind of your buyers, to create a space that will keep them wanting to come back?
The experience of the store is always in the front of our minds. From the tone of our music and scent of our candles, to the dining table and bar, as well as the way the store is merchandised around a coffee table and chairs upon entering, it is all intentional. We should also mention that a cork of something is always popped because it’s supposed to feel like you’ve just walked into the house you’d want to live and hang out in! From the get go we also knew we wanted to create a space that could house events. We hosted over 30+ events last year and are hoping to continue to provide a space to showcase our favorite markers.
Tell us more about the online component of your shop. Was it always in the plan, or is just a necessary evil? Whit’s background in the advertising world was primarily digitally focused, so it was how we started and actually felt very safe. While there were start-up costs associated to branding and exposure, inventory and the systems of the website it was the litmus test we needed to see if the design aesthetic we were introducing to the market would be well received. Now that the brick and mortar is up and running and we’ve gotten our bearings we see the online shop really helping us reach a larger audience.
Behind the scenes
How do you manage running a business as a mother-daughter team? Any tips for those currently, or thinking about working with family or close friends?
Whit handles the majority of the operations like accounting, inventory and all the really fun behind-the-scenes stuff like taxes and licensing plus marketing and community outreach. Michele oversees the day-to-day sales and upkeep of our shop in addition to curating our everyday look and managing our amazing shop girls. We make all buying decisions for merchandise together, which can be interesting as we have similar currents in our sea-inspired taste but with very different end result aesthetics. We attribute our curated mix to that similar-but-not taste, as we both have to love everything we carry.
Can you name a book, podcast, conference, or individual who has had a lasting positive impact on you and your business?
We’re so lucky that here in Jacksonville, the local beaches community has this amazing, incredible, talented, supportive network of female business owners that are all friends who compare notes, collaborate, and look out for each other. It’s pretty cool to be a part of!
The mother-daughter team behind AshleGryre were a huge help showing us the ropes on buying trips and generously offering us their space for routine pop-ups prior to opening the brick and mortar. We collaborate with the family that owns Hotel Palms frequently, that’s where we held our first pop up and website launch party and we continue to be a staple of their holiday market and they even carry a taste of our merchandise in the hotel office and bar. And the editor and publisher of Flamingo Magazine, Jamie Rich and Christina Cush, are a constant reminder to look out for each other. We’re always sending each other texts and emails with “look what I found” and “you could use this” and “check this out for the shop/magazine”.
Hopes + dreams
What areas are you still working on becoming better at, as a business owner and as creative individuals?
Some days you have to pull back, remind yourself not to spread yourself too thin and make a plan to really focus and be good at one thing at a time. Any small business owner can tell you it’s a 24/7 job so we just want to make sure we’re accomplishing what matters most and enjoying the process.
We’re also coming up on our one-year brick and mortar anniversary in May. Trying to stay ahead of the inventory needed, forecasting revenue coming in and everything it takes to support and drive business behind that is our goal for our second year.
What do you envision for the future of your business? Do you have any personal dreams that you still have your sights set on?
Growing our ecommerce business, expanding our product offering and eventually evolving into a larger space are all goals we have for Sailors Sirens’ future. We started this because we loved the idea, and now we love where we are! To grow we have to continue to love it and want to do it. That’s what success really means to us!
Anything exciting coming up that you’d like to share about?
You can stay up to date on all of our upcoming events here: http://www.sailorssiren.com/new-events/
Bonus! Here’s a 15% off coupon code for you to use when you shop at Sailors Siren, now through the end of May 2017: MichelleHickey