Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Rebirth of ZÖE: 365 Day Reflection

365 days ago today I walked into the doors of Zoe's Boutique in the Old City Hall Mall in downtown Regina.  I remember I was wearing a blue dress and black Michael Kors boots.  I was handed the keys and that was that. I had a plan, but as we all know in business, a plan is only a plan until it can be proven.

The business plan was built on two core assumptions regarding the lease and revenue targets based on the previous owner's business

During the planning process, I hired an accountant with a specialization in retail. We looked at the numbers and could see a trend and a risk that these two assumptions may not hold to be true given external environmental factors and demographics.  This was not a surprise to me. But I also knew that the business name, Zoe, held positive memories.  The key was to turn the positive memories back into loyalty.

So the business plan became about the reinvention of this business as a shoe store, building on the memory of its then 29 year old name in the market place, and inspiring the imagination of those who had either never heard of it, or had forgotten about it.

Within two weeks, we began to implement the plan, beginning with a face lift of the original location in the Old City Hall Mall.  We moved the contents of the store into the space next door (created a pop up) while we ripped out 20 year old carpet, scraped the glue off the 106 year old stone floors, freshened up the paint and created a new layout and racking design for the store.

At the same time, we hired Arcas Advertising to help with the rejuvination of the former logo, with a younger, more modern look that would reinspire our customers, and tell the story of this new life that was being rebirthed.  We dropped the 's on the former name (Zoe's) and added an umlaut to the o. The new name, ZÖE, was chosen, which translates to the word, "Life."

We moved back into the space by the end of February (after a two week renovation of working days and nights) and launched the new brand at the same time.

There were limited orders for spring in the books, and the time for ordering would have been the previous fall, so we went to the market place to buy shoes. At the same time we were buying for the fall season.

The new look and the new brand started to attract attention. As people walked into the store, they would stop and say things like, "this is different," "this is a beautiful", "this reminds me of a shoppe that belongs in a bigger city", and "what happened here?"

The original footprint had a 250 square feet of actual retail space, because a large shoe storage room occupied the majority of the store.  Our plan was to take it down and install an open shoe shelf system.  When I went to talk to the landlord about it, she said that there would be no point, because we wouldn't be there long term.  The Globe Theatre Society owns the building and have plans to renovate the building, so the lease was expected to end.  Other tenants in the building moved as well, and it seemed that the empty spaces were going to stay that way.  In addition, the downtown decisions regarding parking enforcement and traffic flow, and the fact that there were fewer and fewer neighboring retail businesses, meant that traffic flow to the store was desperate.  So the targets as projected in the business plan could not be proven.

These two factors led to the search for a new location a year sooner than we thought would be necessary.  We looked at several spaces downtown but the conditions were not optimum for our business. We needed street access, parking and to be part of a neighbourhood of businesses.

In August, we made the decision to move the store to the newest retail / business / living development, Canterbury Commons, on the southern fringe of downtown, just one block south of College Avenue and Broad Street - close to where the original Zoe's Boutique began 30 years ago.

During August, September, October, the space was designed and built to spec by Fiorante Homes and Commercial.  In October, our own contractor Kirk Williamson came in to build the shoe library, stairways and furniture.

On October 30 we began to move and by November 3, we opened the new location at 1732 Badham.  Early indications (November, December, January) indicate that the business plan is achievable.

On February 1, we are celebrating the rebirth / first birthday of our new ZÖE, and the grand opening of the new shop at 1732 Badham Blvd.  2017 is also the 30th year since the original Zoe's Boutique came into being.

The new ZÖE is a premium personalized shopping experience.  The new space features stairway displays for shoes as designed in our previous location, a custom designed and built shoe library and racking systems and movable dressing room custom built from construction materials.  The floor in our new space is concrete with a touch of sparkle, which is perfect for a store where most people look down at their feet, and the lighting - 54 track heads and eight runway lights in daylight bulbs that show off our products and create a positive environment for our customers and staff.

To my family who worked with me throughout the year to create the vision of the new ZÖE, and my customers and peers in the business community who supporting us this year, thank you.

In 365 we created a new life for ZÖE.  On February 1, we celebrate the first of many birthdays, and the grand opening of our new space at 1732 Badham Blvd.