The fashion of success

Stephanie Sherman

Stephanie Sherman is the co-owner of Lela Boutique, 321 N. Broadway and vice president of the Historic Third Ward Association board of directors in Milwaukee. Lela sells fashion-forward women’s apparel and accessories.

“The fashion industry is growing in greater Milwaukee and across the nation; spurred on by the Web and popular television shows that make it more accessible. The potential for success in the fashion business is endless in Milwaukee, since the independent retail market has been underserved and the culture supports loyalty and locals. Whether it is retail, design, styling, modeling or event planning, the track to success can be rocky, but it’s paved with fun when focused and fine-tuned. In my seven years as the co-owner of Lela, I have lived by four easy principles.

“Be bold. In the first year of business, Lela was the only boutique in the Third Ward. My husband, our volunteer media counsel, suggested contacting local media for coverage. We crafted a press release stating that we were in the heart of Milwaukee’s Fashion District, even though we were really the only boutique fashion retailer. When WISN’s helicopter hovered above proclaiming it was high above Milwaukee’s Fashion District, our fashion dream became real. Within the next months and years, we recruited other retailers and now with more than a dozen boutiques, our bold statement is a self-fulfilling prophecy that had fed the bottom line.

“Play your own game. Competition follows success. However, at Lela, our competitors are our friends. In fashion, there are a million lines that we could sell, but offering something exclusive to our customers builds loyalty. We stay focused on what we are great at and refer customers to our competitors when they are looking for something outside of our offerings.

“Partnership is key. At Lela, my business partner and I share the passion for our business but learned quickly to divide and conquer. As a startup, we had to divvy up roles to get everything done. To grow, we have hired people who share our passion and possess talents that complement our own. Our staff of seven women is all talented and empowered. They could all be owners.

“Customer service must lead. Lela is a bricks and mortar retailer. We make money when customers walk through he door. Our single focus is to serve them. This can be challenging in a multi-media, multi-tasking world. So, it’s a policy for our team that we do not allow mobile phones, Facebook or e-mail on the sales floor. The technology stays in the back office and assists our marketing, but doesn’t detract from our one-on-one customer service. Call us old-fashioned, but it works.”

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