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Sherri Richards, Published March 07 2014

Boutique boom: Retail trend offers unique products, personalized service

FARGO – Hollie Nelson worked in occupational therapy. Now, you could say she works in retail therapy.

Nelson opened Mainstream Boutique last June.

“I reached a point in my career that I knew that was what I wanted to do,” Nelson said.

The women’s clothing store is an Apple Valley, Minn.-based franchise with locations in 15 states.

It’s also one of several new local businesses bearing in their name the word “boutique.”

They’re popping up in south Fargo strip malls, inside large shopping centers and in the heart of downtown.

“We’re definitely seeing a trend where boutiques and boutique shopping are starting to be common,” said Alissa Adams, marketing director for West Acres Shopping Center in Fargo. “It’s offering a more customized shopping experience which people are drawn to.”

Adams points not only to locally owned stores but boutique sections within large department stores. She describes boutiques as “complementary to our retail mix.”

In a world where purchases are a click away online, boutiques offer niche products in limited quantities, a high turnover in selection and personalized customer service, she said.

Nelson said the comment she hears most often from customers is how they “don’t want to see 20 different women wearing the same thing.”

“People want something unique that sets them apart,” Nelson said. “It’s about developing relationships. It’s not just about the clothing.

“We want it to be a fun place, a welcoming place,” she added. “We want women to come here and feel comfortable.”

Mike Hahn, president and CEO of the Downtown Community Partnership, said the boutique boom is a national phenomenon, tied to the growth in entrepreneurship.

“A lot of people are finding entrepreneurship is the answer, being their own boss, having passion and desire, taking a hobby and moving to a business aspect,” Hahn said.

Many start as part-time entities that transform into full-time businesses over a few years, he said.

“Boutique” is a word that can be used by many different types of businesses – clothing, furniture, art, he said.

When Maria Bosak was preparing to open Eco Chic Boutique off 17th Avenue South in Fargo, she debated whether the word “boutique” should be part of the store’s name.

“If we put that in there, will people perceive us as being expensive?” Bosak said. “We put it in there because we felt it meant fun and interesting and out of the norm.”

Eco Chic sells repurposed furniture, as well as eco-friendly products for the home, baby and moms.

“To me, a boutique is something that has interesting products that you can’t find just anywhere. So I think it’s that ‘wow’ factor of unusual, interesting pieces,” Bosak said. “We consider locally made to be part of our setting that makes us a boutique.”

Bosak has noticed the increase in boutiques in town, and welcomes it.

“I wish we could get an assortment right around us,” Bosak said. “We would love to collaborate more.”

The Downtown Community Partnership’s website lists 14 stores under its “boutique” category.

Angie Rodacker opened Mystique Boutique at 412 Broadway, Fargo, in November.

A pharmacy technician, she had been selling clothing online. “I just decided one day I can do this,” Rodacker said.

Mystique Boutique sells plus-size clothing and holds sales, things not a lot of boutiques do, Rodacker said. The store is not part of a franchise.

She describes her customer as “someone who likes to dress up and takes pride in her look.”

The store will move across the hall in April, giving Rodacker four times her current 500-square-foot space.

She appreciates her downtown location and proximity to other boutiques.

Because of their niche nature, more boutiques don’t necessarily mean more competition for store owners.

“Once you get those boutique shops that are located within walking distance of each other, it creates a strong cluster,” Hahn said.

Tourists look for these kinds of stores, and they have a strong local following, he said.

“They’re the ones that add personality to downtown and add personality to the community,” Hahn said. “I think it’s important for them to flourish.”

Business profile

Mainstream Boutique

Ownership: Hollie Nelson

Where: 2603 Kirsten Lane S.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday

Contact: (701) 356-6684

Online: www.mainstreamboutique.com

Mystique Boutique

Ownership: Angie Rodacker

Where: 412 Broadway

Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday

Contact: (701) 799-4390

Online: www.mystiqueboutiquend.com

Readers can reach Forum Business Editor Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556