For the Love of Fashion

Fashion is all about being expressive and Owner Danielle Shaffer of Aw Else Boutique of Greensburg, Pennsylvania has been known to be expressive herself.  After many changes in her career and life, Danielle decided to go back to school and to become an entrepreneur.  With her passion for fashion and accessories, she and her partner Mark White opened their new boutique just over a year ago.  And with that knowledge and determination, she wanted her store to reflect products that were easy to work with any outfit and have interchangeability. More importantly, she wanted to offer products that help make women feel good about themselves. “Don’t we just love it when another woman comments on our outfit or accessories? This just makes us feel so good.”

The name of Danielle’s boutique, Aw Else Boutique, is unique in itself.  “When it came time to decide on the name of our store, Mark and I sat down and wrote down lots of ideas.  But nothing seemed to fit.”  But then their focus quickly turned to their family, specifically their girls.  So to keep their family at the forefront of their boutique, the name came from combining Mark’s girls initials (Ashley, Ally and Amanda White) = “AW” and “Else” is for Danielle’s daughter Ella Louise Shaffer.  “Customers asked us all the time how we came up with the name and we just love telling it.”

At Aw Else Boutique, Danielle offers a unique array of jewelry, scarves, purses, body products and candles.  With the focus of bringing in fashionable, affordable products to her shop, she also strives to sell items that are made by local artisans and products that are made in the USA. “We don’t want to be known as a gift store, but a place to go shopping.”

With a year under their belt, Aw Else has seen their share of challenges for 2012.  “Sure we would have liked to see our first year more up, but we really had no idea how it was going to be” says Danielle.  As they enter their second year, Aw Else has two obstacles to overcome. First, they have a challenge with advertising within the community and what is the best way to reach their customers.  The second is focusing on educating our customers on the brands we carry in our boutique. “We don’t carry Vera Bradley or Brighton which is really big for our community.  So we have to consistently educate our customers about these brands and what makes them unique.”  Facing these obstacles head on and finding creative ways to address them is what will make Aw Else Boutique a wiser, smarter retailer for years to come.

According to Danielle’s customers, they just love coming to Aw Else Boutique.  “The feedback we’ve received is that they find us really down-to-earth people, helpful and that we will do just about anything to please them.  And some of our customers have been known to come in and just want to hang out with us.”  They enjoy the inviting atmosphere of the boutique and find it so much fun to shop there.

Around this time of year, football is Danielle’s main focus in capturing her fall business.  “One of our brands, Sorrelli, introduced a new collegiate collection which is perfect for our big Pittsburg Steelers fans.”  In fact, Aw Else Boutique sits not far from the Steelers training camp.  Therefore, it’s all about black and gold for Danielle.  “We have boots, drinkware, jewelry, accessories, and other products that are displayed in our windows and throughout our boutique” says Danielle.

With the excitement of the upcoming football season comes some pretty exciting press coverage.  Aw Else Boutique will be a featured business in the Greensburg local community magazine Whirl Magazine. “They will be doing a feature on our store highlighting our fall fashions and we are very excited to be a part of that” says Danielle.  This printed publication reaches the Pittsburgh area which Aw Else Boutique is trying to tap into.  In addition to their feature, Danielle will be participating in a November fashion show that benefits a local organization entitled Westmoreland Cultural Trust.  All of these contribute to the growing awareness of Danielle’s boutique.

Creative, fun displays are at the heart of Aw Else Boutique.  “Visual merchandising is huge for us” says Danielle. “We love visiting other stores and getting ideas that way too.  This all helps in keeping our creative juices flowing.”  One creative concept that Danielle’s partner, Mark, put together consisted of using an antique dresser.  He removed the front lower drawers and left it open.  By doing this, Danielle was able to showcase the purses and totes. (see image).  Plus they have plans to utilize a 3 foot bamboo stick with curtain rods from the ceiling to showcase their new Sorrelli collection.  They found that the bamboo is strong enough to hold necklaces and earrings.   Additionally, they use cork board to display their jewelry by pinning on necklaces and earrings directly to the board for a fun, clever look.

With Aw Else Boutique’s Anniversary celebration in full swing, Danielle has one very exciting promotion to help drive business. Now through the end of August, customers that visit her boutique can enter to win one of 5 gift baskets valued at $100 each.  “We definitely did not just want our baskets to be only products from our store, so we reached out to other area business for items as well.  This isn’t just about promoting us, but about promoting our community” says Danielle.  She managed to connect with a local spa and gourmet pizza restaurant along with a few others.

Events are important to Aw Else Boutique.  Later in the month, Danielle is hosting her “Girls Night Out” event that is always a hit with her customers.  “In addition to doing a giveaway and providing food and wine, we are also doing something different this time.  Customers can purchase a “ticket” for the event and when they arrive, they will receive a $10 gift card to use that night. It’s like holding their place for the event” says Danielle. Then in September, Danielle is working on details for a promotion to bring in a gently used handbag to be donated to a local women’s shelter.  In turn, the customer will receive an instant discount to use on their next handbag purchase.
Aw Else Boutique likes to reward their customers whenever they can.  And it’s easy with their All About You customer program.  When customers accumulate 250 in AEB Bucks, they will receive a $25 gift card good towards any store purchase.  Customers earn points with every dollar they spend in Danielle’s boutique plus they also have other ways to earn bucks.  If a customer simply responds to an Aw Else Boutique email, they earn $2 towards their AEB buck account.  Then if they refer a friend or family member to Aw Else Boutique, they earn $5 towards their AEB buck account.  Plus for each item they purchase, they earn a $1 for every dollar spent.  In addition to their customer program, Aw Else Boutique offers free local delivery in addition to gift wrapping.
Marketing for Aw Else Boutique has been challenging and interesting all at the same time.  “We have learned that we can never really have a marketing budget” says Danielle. “At first, we tried many different ways to market our store.” Then they looked at print advertising.  But for Danielle, this was very hard.  “I always thought that print advertising was dead and wouldn’t do much for us.” Slowly, she realized that her community is very slow in getting onto social media and that she need another way to reach customers.  So Danielle is now advertising in their local newspaper along with social media that includes her blog, facebook, twitter and website. Sharing new product arrivals with her customers on her facebook page or through email helps to create excitement and really keeps her customers involved in her boutique. “We really need just another year under our belt to really measure our efforts when it comes to marketing.  We just have to be everything to reach all customers.”
Being open to learning what works and doesn’t work is key to building Aw Else Boutique’s business.  “We learned pretty quickly that social media for us is not to be used to build sales” says Danielle.  At first, social media played a part in growing the awareness of her business, but it didn’t necessary bring in more revenue. “We use social media now to reach out to our customers and keep them engaged with boutique.”
Danielle finds inspiration in many places.  “I love to visit a local competitor’s store and just shop.  And I like them on their facebook page so I can see what’s going on.  This is my favorite store and they are who I strive to be like when I grow up.”  For Aw Else Boutique, it’s not about copying them, but taking their ideas and plans and putting Danielle’s own spin on it.  Other places of inspiration for Danielle include Pinterest, even OneCoast’s website and Pinterest page along with attending the trade shows.
Owning a business can be exhausting.  But for Danielle and Mark, their passion, excitement and dedication is all centered on family which keeps them going day in and day out.  With one year gone, Danielle can look back and be proud of what she started and where she is headed.  For Aw Else Boutique, the future is so bright that they will definitely need to wear shades along with a fabulous pair of earrings and one stylish handbag.  Oh, and maybe a new pair of shoes.