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Lori Harris opened Mary Jane’s in Park City, Utah on Valentine’s Day in 2004 to balance her love of fashion with her passion for business. Well known for her élan and elegance, Lori helps her customers look their best while drawing on many years of business experience to keep Mary Jane’s well-stocked with the latest styles of women’s apparel and accessories. After the success of Mary Jane’s on Park City’s chic Main Street, Lori opened up a second location in the Central West End in St. Louis, Missouri in 2008.
Gus: How has your background and experience helped contribute to the vision and success of Mary Jane’s boutiques?
Lori: Opening and running a boutique like Mary Jane’s is a business not a hobby and you have to treat it that way. I know many people who have opened and closed a small business because they thought it would be “fun”. So my experience in operating businesses really helped Mary Jane’s make it through the recessions and downturns because I know how to look at a business and figure out how to maximize revenues while cutting costs without giving up.
Gus: Do you think that the Midwest is sometimes underserved and overlooked when it comes to fashion?
Lori: I think in the past the Midwest marketplaces were underserved but with fashion markets in Chicago and Dallas and online lookbooks now, there is a much stronger focus on getting designers and trends to the center of the country. We also have so many fantastic boutiques that have popped up in the last few years as well as fast fashion department stores that bring trends to the masses. I believe Mary Jane’s was one of the first trendy boutiques to hit St Louis.
Gus: As President of the Park City Women’s Business Network, what are some ways that you help women empower themselves through business, networking and, of course, fashion?
Lori: Our organization’s mission is to network, support, educate and promote women in business in our local community. And we do just that. Every month we host a meeting where we feature a speaker (typically a woman) who can provide important information to our members about running their business. We also provide networking time during those meetings where our women can exchange information and help each other. Our biggest function is as a fundraising organization where we host a Fall Fashion Fundraiser every October that features a live auction of all the looks that go down the runway. All proceeds from our fundraiser and meetings go to provide scholarships to women at the Park City High School each year. Last year we gave $15,000 in scholarships.
Gus: What were the factors that led you to select St. Louis, Missouri as the location to open your second store?
Lori: I am interested in beginning to franchise the Mary Jane’s stores. In doing so, I wanted to try a different type of location, somewhere more urban and stand alone. I was born and raised in St Louis so it was a natural extension into a city location. I love the Central West End and grew up going to Balaban’s. It is a very similar neighborhood in its historic-ness and nearness to Forest Park and the universities as Park City is so even though it is more urban it also had similarities to my flagship store.
Gus: When money is tight the clothing budget is one of the first areas to see a pinch. How did you manage to keep both stores open during a recession? Did you have any creative marketing strategies that you used to get people through the door or browsing online?
Lori: We made a lot of changes starting with our inventory. We expanded our designer lines into more affordable and inexpensive lines and made those our sweet spot. We now carry items in the stores that range from $5 gifts up to $350 boots and dresses, but our main range of products are from $49 – $199. This puts us in line with the fast fashion companies like Forever 21 and H&M. We also focused on reducing many expenses like rent, payroll, and supplies through working with our landlords/leases, employee structure, and what we buy and when we buy it. Reporting has been key to understanding where our business is and where we need to take it in the future.
Gus: What are some trends for 2013 that you’re excited about?
Lori: With some of our changes to stay profitable during the downturn we have really dialed back our “future” focus on merchandise. Retail has had to focus on current trends and inventory instead of 6 months to a year out. So what I am excited about is winter 2012-2013 trends. Faux fur vests, printed denim and chunky booties are my favorites. Metal heels and cap toes on animal print flats and pumps are also very hot and sassy for this winter.
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