Q&A with Debra Ordway, Owner
Ted Vayos, BODY: Describe your store.
Debra Ordway: Theatrical Costumes, ETC! and Trendy Boutique in Boulder Colorado started in 1996 from a vision that turned into a three-location retail and rental business with twenty employees over a six year period. I started renting costumes out of our basement. I had been volunteering for theater events at schools for most of my life providing costumes and makeup application. The first business I started was a non-profit. I then opened a brick and mortar for-profit store in north Boulder in 2006 (1300 square feet).
My husband, Richard, with an MBA, joined me in the business and then we moved into our current busier location in South Boulder in 2009 (1300 square feet). Richard immediately started work on getting the inventory under control with a mac-based state-of-the-art POS/inventory computer system and starting a formal employee training program. Soon afterwards, our daughter, Anna, joined the store with a business degree. She has been instrumental in taking over many daily management tasks and refining and doing the employee scheduling. Richard then installed a state-of-the-art computerized employee scheduling program. He also oversaw a professionally designed, updated website. Additionally, Richard oversaw the implementation of a written two-five year business plan that is updated every year that gives our store valuable direction. In 2012, we added two more locations and increased our inventory amount to over 60,000 items. The first additional location was adjacent to our main one (3000 square feet). The second one was in east boulder to handle costume rentals (3000 square feet). We sell costumes, costume accessories, masks, hats, wigs, lingerie, shapewear, hosiery, feather products and trendy boutique items. Our business puts a strong emphasis on customer service and of having a continual incoming flow of unusual and wide variety of products. I go on buying trips at least four times a year to such locations as New York City, Los Angeles, Houston, London and Germany. This introduces exciting new product that helps to bring in repeat customers. Another reason for our success is our fantastic employees. They are mostly young, enthusiastic college-age students. Each one of them is given at least a full day of formal, personalized training from a training manual or until they can perform their jobs. They can also reference a detailed store procedures manual. The employees are cross-trained. The motto of our store is, “Customers and employees come first.” The store’s future plans are up to our daughter.
Ted: What makes your store special?
Debra: We believe that several things make our store special. First, is our strong emphasis on customer service. The employees are taught both formally and by example that customers come first. At least two employees are always on the floor if possible. Secondly, we have extremely unique and new product continually flowing in. We travel extensively on buying trips. Thirdly, our state-of-the-art inventory system is able to tell us what products and which categories are selling the best and the worst for any given past day, month or year with only a few button clicks.
Ted: What do you look for in a brand?
Debra: We use mostly history for our product and brand selection. We particularly try to pick brands that our customers ask for or have bought in the past. We are “customer driven.” We are constantly bringing in new brands and companies. Luckily, the advanced inventory system can keep up with it. We almost always have one to two employees permanently receiving new product. TCE carries many products besides intimates apparel such as costumes, costume accessories, masks, hats, wigs, lingerie, shapewear, hosiery, feather products and trendy boutique items. Some of our best-selling brands are Violet Love, Leg Ave, Music Legs, Forum, Westbay and Ben Nye.
Ted: What are the latest trends?
Debra: Our most popular styles and trends are currently “steampunk”, burlesque and hats.
Ted: Describe your price points and size ranges.
Debra: We have a huge variety in price points and size ranges commiserate with the product costs and customer requests. This usually means that we usually have what customers are looking for. In other words, our inventory is gigantic. This meets our prime directive of “customer service.” However, we try to keep our prices extremely reasonable as well.
Ted: What is your typical or average customer size?
Debra: Our typical or average customer size is medium and plus size.
Ted: What does the average customer spend per visit to your store?
Debra: Our average customer spends $33 per visit.
Ted: Describe your customer.
Debra: Our customer base is mostly young women and men including teens. However, young 20-30 year-old mothers, and grandparents with accompanying children follow very closely. Boulder is a unique location because it is a college town bringing in this demographic. Also, the housing costs are extremely high here which means customer’s incomes and levels of education and creativity are very high. Boulder is an exceptionally politically liberal island in the middle of a sea of conservative communities. It is exciting to interact with customers of this caliber!
Ted: What else can you tell us about your business?
Debra: We are very fortunate to be a very diverse family that gets along! I am the creative artist, Richard is the business mind and Anna is the muscle! Our store is extremely fun for us to run. The huge automation takes out a lot of the drudgework and massive time expenditure compared to our first few years. Ordering, for example, used to take one-two days per vendor order. Now it is so automated, tracked, categorized and editable, that it literally takes only a few button presses to generate, edit and send out our orders by automatic email for what we need. Our automated inventory system gives us incredible instant historical information down to each past day. It is so easy that we delegate much reordering to our employees using the automated system (who thus far done a spectacular job at it). Remote Laptops also allow us to be productive on the road or from home. Another lifesaver is our remote laptops. They allow us to “be in the store without being there” including access to the inventory/POS system, “realtime” employee scheduling (everyone must photo time stamp themselves in on certain computers (including us!)), sales, inventory, documents, statistics, email, etc. We can work and even sell remotely from our laptops at almost any location. Most employers report that they have had tremendous problems with employees. So far for over six years, we have not. They have been wonderful. We try to treat our employees as family and we try to “lead from the front.”