Downtown Divas

Marge Swayne (The Farmville Herald )



The Downtown Divas, a group of eight local businesswomen, are going from Main Street to mainstream with a unique blend of "shop downtown" promotions and Internet marketing. "When you look at the makeup of downtown there are a huge number of women who own the businesses, commented Rosa Mann, owner of  The Ivy Trellis. "A few of us started getting together, and we've kept it up every week." Eight women, all Main Street store owners, began meeting for breakfast to discuss such topics as advertising, Internet sales, and cross-marketing.

"We really got together to put out a flier, related Annice Schuler, of the Fashion Post. The flier will go out to a combined mailing list from the seven businesses represented by the Divas. "If you can target the people who have been in Farmville before, they're the ones who see an opportunity to come back and get a discount," said Carol Broadwater, of Amish Originals. "I don't remember shopping at many stores where you get an invitation personally to come back."

The flier labeled "Historic Downtown Farmville" includes logos for each store, a brief description of merchandise, and discount offers — such as "free lunch at Charley's with every purchase at Rug Rats, 20 percent off regular priced merchandise at the Fashion Post, or free alterations at Caryn's." The flier also includes web site addresses for each business. "I'm really pushing the internet," stated Sandy Henderson, of Rug Rats. "With the Internet you can put the whole world at your store." All of the Divas now have web sites, and during their weekly meetings they discuss ways to improve internet sales.

Some of the businesses are already making 40 percent of their sales on the internet. All of the sites are linked in creative ways. For instance, one of the rugs available at Rug Rats is by a designer who hand-paints sheets available at The Ivy Trellis. "You can click on my site and go right to Rosa's," noted the Rug Rats owner. Such connections are expanding with product displays set up between each of the Diva's stores.

"I think cross-marketing shows the connection between us, Broadwater said. "It's definitely worked. One couple bought a table and chairs we had displayed with Ivy Trellis chair pads. The customer wanted both." "The basis of the group is to help each other," stated Margaret Atkins. of Martin & Atkins Jewelry. "There's no jealousy going on." Another goal of the Downtown Divas is to promote shopping downtown.

"We do things I would have never thought about," noted Linda Reid, of Rolleighdon Books. "We had a yard sale together last summer. My volume wasn't that great, but I handed out business cards. A lot of people said — "I had no idea you were here.'' In addition to the yard sale, which the Divas plan to make an annual event, they have started an investment club with Kerby Moore and a book club. "We basically focus on books that help with our businesses, Mann added. Currently the Divas are reading The E Myth.

"It has wonderful ideas about how we should look at our business," Henderson noted. "We're supposed to work on our business, not in our business. We all read the book and talked about that." Aside from the discussion of business matters, the Divas value the support and friendship from others in the group. "It's a camaraderie," said Atkins. 'I've learned a lot from them— to draw on their experiences.

"It's been nice to bring up problems — like those customers you don't know what to say to," said Diane Andrews. of the Fashion Post. 'It's nice to know what some other store owners said." The Divas meet every Wednesday morning. Although they keep in touch during the week, they all know that personal contact is important. "We can sit down and have a cup of coffee. We laugh, we get serious — It's just fun," Atkins stated.

On a recent Wednesday morning the Divas met at the Longwood Bed and Breakfast, a relatively new business in town. "I personally like to experience all the businesses in town," Kayton observed. The meeting begins with an expected question: How's business? "I won the award for most returns," Mann joked. "All the business I did last week was on the Internet." Henderson noted. Andrews related that the Fashion Post had an internet request for the "Pink Cadillac" sweater by Michael Simon. "It's available," she added. "You know what you should do — get a picture of It and send it to the Mary Kay people," Mann said. "Then put it on the front page of your web site."

"I would send a letter to Mary Kay that it was on your web site," Broadwater suggested. "They could give their sales people a sweater to go with their pink cadillacs." "You could sell them by the dozen," Henderson added. "I'm getting a heart-shaped ornament called 'Brave Heart,'" Mann told the group. "It's a charity piece with all the proceeds going to New York." "I'm getting three patriotic rugs," Henderson added. While breakfast is served, Henderson shares photographs from a recent trip to New York. "I walked over to Ground Zero — it was very powerful," she said. The other women nodded. Someone asked about Betty Owen. Other than a reward being established for information about the missing local woman, there was nothing new to report. As the Divas complimented the bed and breakfast host on the tempting breakfast of fresh fruit, waffles, and eggs, another couple came in for breakfast.

"Have you been shopping in Farmville?" one of the Divas asked. The couple related that they were in town shopping for furniture. "May I suggest Amish Originals," Henderson offered: Everyone settled down to enjoy the meal before taking a tour of the bed and breakfast.

Just across the room was a grand piano. Do the Divas, in fact, sing? "No," Mann smiled. "Chris Brochan sent me a Christmas card and he said something like - you're one of the downtown divas. It just stuck in my head." "We all liked it," Henderson said. "There's not a better name," Andrews agreed. "We all are divas!" Henderson added.

"I do think the Downtown Divas are good for Farmville," Reid concluded. "I think a lot of people in this area don't realize how many unique shops we have in Farmville. We have things that you just cannot find at other stores — they're one of a kind." So — to Farmville's benefit — are the Downtown Divas.


'Divas' are a network for success Entrepreneurs offer support in Farmville

by Kathryn Orth

(Richmond Times-Dispatch)

FARMVILLE - They call themselves the Downtown Divas, eight women who own and operate retail businesses on Farmville's Main Street. For almost a year, the Divas have met for breakfast every Wednesday to trade ideas and advice. The group is part investment club and part book group, but mostly it is a business support group.

"We get to talk," said Sandy Henderson, who owns Rug Rats, a retail showroom for high-end carpeting. "When you're in business for yourself, you don't have anyone to talk to, so when anyone has a problem, we bring it up and say 'What do you think?'" There is no planned agenda, just breakfast at a local restaurant and discussions of anything anybody wants to talk about, from personnel problems to taxes and merchandising ideas, or advice on juggling family and business responsibilities. The questions often seem surprisingly practical.

"Can I borrow some dishes? Everyday dishes, anything you want to sell," Rosa Mann of The Ivy Trellis asked Margaret Atkins, owner of Martin and Atkins Fine Jewelry, at a recent breakfast. The Ivy Trellis had a new shipment of table linens, and Mann wanted the dishes to set off a display of Waverly placemats. One of the first things the Divas did after organizing the group was to tour all the stores to become familiar with each others' inventory. They soon found that cross-merchandising among their stores worked well. Carol Broadwater often borrows linens from The Ivy Trellis to add to furniture displays at her store, Amish Originals. "We set a table with Rosa's linens and somebody bought the whole thing, the table and the linens," Broadwater said.

Diane Andrews and Annice Schuler carry Belle Pointe sweaters at their store, The Fashion Post. When Belle Pointe recently incorporated Christopher Radko designs, Andrews took a sweater to The Ivy Trellis to display among Mann's Christopher Radko Christmas ornaments. While cross-merchandising on Main Street, the Divas also link their Web sites. Each store's Web site links to a Farmville site that features all the Divas' stores, as well as others nearby.

Most of the Divas have done well with Internet sales, Henderson said. "Oh, my, it's really amazing. I like the fact that we're in historic, small-town America, and doing business all over the country," she said. The Internet has allowed the Divas to tap into markets they would not have had access to, Henderson said.

Mann estimates her Web site averages 120 hits a day, with about 40 percent of The Ivy Trellis's sales coming from the Internet. Mann has shipped linens and gift items as far away as Alaska and the Virgin Islands. Caryn Kayton, of Caryn's Bridals, Formals and Tuxedos, shipped a designer wedding dress to a customer in Japan, where a local seamstress did the final fitting.

Henderson estimates 30 percent of her business is from Internet sales. She is working on expanding her Web site links to include antique shops and bed and breakfast inns in the area. "A lot of people fly into Farmville to shop, and people will often ask what else there is to do in the area." The Divas also provide encouragement for each other in using the computer.

"We were dragged kicking and screaming into the world of computers," Andrews said. "The group helped us learn." Schuler agreed. "The Web site, the computer in general. That's what I've gotten from this group."

The Divas credit Henderson with organizing the group, but they got their name from Chris Brochon, of radio station WFLO. "He wrote something like that on a Christmas card one year, teasing me about being a Downtown Diva," Mann said. "We laughed about it and the name just stuck. Then when the group started getting together, I said this must be the Downtown Divas." "I think I was watching Aretha Franklin on VH1 at the time," Brochon said with a laugh.

The Divas loved it when local investment counselor Kerby Moore gave the women glittery tiaras for Christmas as a joke, Atkins said. But as much fun as the Divas have, they take the group seriously. "This meeting is very important to me," Broadwater said. "I'm finally learning to run the business, instead of it running me. I couldn't have done it without the group."

"The single most important thing I have learned with the group was when we all read The E-Myth [Revisited by Michael E. Gerber] and learned 'working on your business, rather than in it.' We didn't have that concept," Kayton said.

"I like everyone's different viewpoints," Atkins said. "You can present one problem and get eight different takes on it."


Downtown Divas’ Bring Touch of Class to Historic Farmville, Virginia

It takes a woman’s touch, they say, and the touch of six savvy businesswomen in Farmville, Virginia, has helped bring high-class elegance to this one-time farm town.

Farmville, VA (PRWEB)

Dubbed the “Downtown Divas” by a local disc jockey, these women meet weekly to mull over how to improve their stores and the town in general. All six sell top-of-the-line merchandise in quaint Main Street stores, combining small-town friendly service with fifth-avenue quality. Fashion clothes, high-end carpet, home fashions, fine jewelry, formalwear, and handmade cherry and oak furniture, entice upscale shoppers who have discovered a shopping mecca in an unlikely place.

Where do the shoppers come from? From all over the state and even beyond, thanks in large part to Green Front Furniture, Farmville’s claim to fame. Green Front’s 15 buildings (with over 650,000 square feet of showrooms) give strong testament to the transformation of this town, for most are converted from huge tobacco warehouses. But if shoppers come for Green Front, they stay to explore the surprising variety of boutiques, many owned by the Downtown Divas.

“I think a lot of people don’t realize how many unique shops we have in Farmville,” said Rosa Mann, owner of The Ivy Trellis “We have things you just cannot find at other stores.”

Carol Broadwater, owner of Amish Originals, sells furniture made by her extended family in Holmes County, Ohio. Solid cherry and oak pieces offer lasting beauty, transcending short-lived popular styles. Similarly, Sandy Henderson of Rug Rats makes one-of-a-kind custom rugs that have garnered national attention. Her designs range from Picasso to Matisse, true art for the floor. Rosa Mann offers exclusive interior design through The Ivy Trellis along with gifts for the home.

Christie Bailey, another interior decorator, has ventured into upscale clothing with The Fashion Post, vying with New York City’s best. Caryn Kayton owns one of Virginia’s largest bridal and formalwear salons. Prom goers can select from a huge array, including the gown Julia Roberts wore to the Emmys and the dress from the movie How to Lose a Guy. Margaret Atkins of Atkins Jewelry offers perfect gems and jewelry, especially pearls, her specialty.

Instead of competing for consumer dollars, as perhaps men owners would do, these women compliment each other and work together for their mutual benefit. They’ve connected their stores through common brochures, fliers, internet pages, and even cross merchandising. They believe they have unlimited potential for growth, both by enticing new shoppers to the area and by pushing internet sales, which take their unique offerings to the world. “The basis of the group is to help each other,” said Margaret Atkins. “There’s no jealousy going on.”

The same Scandinavian designer makes hand-painted sheets for Rosa Mann’s store and designer rugs for Sandy Henderson’s store. You can get find both items on either web site. Rug Rats also displays braided rugs that you buy at… Amish Originals! And Amish Originals, in turn, borrows linens from The Ivy Trellis to add to furniture displays. “We set a table with Rosa’s linens and somebody bought the whole thing, the table and the linens,” said Carol Broadwater. Also, Green Front Accessories lends rugs and furniture for display at The Fashion Post.

The Downtown Divas extend the woman’s touch beyond their own stores. They’re working to upscale the entire town. Sandy Henderson helps organize First Fridays, a monthly outdoor concert with attractions for families held by the picturesque Appomattox River, and Margaret Atkins helped initiate a downtown Thanksgiving Parade.

In the fiercely competitive world of retail sales, the Downtown Divas are exploring new ways of doing business, relying on close relationships, mutual encouragement, impeccable taste, and that personal touch that marks a successful boutique. They are adding a whole new dimension to Main Street USA.


From Magazine Article: Textiles in Today's Market

By Susan Wagner, Editor

Fun seasonal designs, creative textures and distinctive patterns combine to create new textiles that wow today’s consumers.

Ten Bears' Barcelona quilted place mats are reversible, with a design on one side and a solid color on the other. Both round and rectangle styles feature scalloped edges. Soft goods, such as kitchen linens, quilts, pillows and rugs, are a staple in many home decor stores. Customers looking to add a little punch to their rooms often seek out colorful pillows or a nicely textured throw. And as the months change, these shoppers are on the lookout for new place mats or kitchen towels to update their home for the season. Consumers also turn to textiles for great housewarming gifts. It’s no wonder then that many retailers carry a strong selection of soft goods.

“We sell a ton of textiles, everything from small inexpensive hand/kitchen towels to king-sized coverlets,” say Barb and John O’Brien, proprietors of Good Old Days Country Shop in Williamson, New York. Good Old Days specializes in antiques, primitives and home furnishings and carries more than 10,000 items in its inventory. “We never get a lot of one kind, but we have a lot of various styles and colors to choose from,” they note.

When it comes to specific textile types, many retailers do well with table runners and kitchen towels. These often-inexpensive items are great ways for customers to update their decor without breaking the budget, and many homeowners have several of each textile item that they rotate with the seasons. Today’s consumer seems to favor runners over the traditional place mats of yesteryear. Table runners are versatile; they can be used not only on kitchen tables but also cabinets, sofa tables and other furniture pieces.

In addition to kitchen textiles, valances and accent rugs are other big sellers. At The Ivy Trellis in Farmville, Virginia, owner Rosa Mann displays about 15 to 20 different valances on a large wall and showcases other valances and drapes throughout the shop above and beside various vignettes. The Ivy Trellis makes all of its own window treatments. “We used to sell only ready-made items from lots of companies,” Mann says. “Through the years, most have closed or moved production overseas, so as business changed, we had to redefine our niche, so that’s when we started doing our own.” Producing its own textiles allows The Ivy Trellis to carry merchandise that isn’t available at every home decor store in the area.

At Susie’s Bittersweet Treasures in Rochester, New Hampshire, owner Susie Gordon says she does well with kitchen and bathroom textiles as well as bedroom items. “When I purchase a textile for the shop, I try to make it work for any room,” she notes. “For example, when I purchase a popular print, I will carry the valance, tiers, swags, panels and shower curtains as well as the dishcloths, tea towels, table runners and place mats. That way, it can be used in any room of the home.” Other retailers show their customers how textiles can be multipurpose, using throws as tablecloths, for example. And when it comes to displaying a large line of items, many retailers will show a few popular items and then have a swatch display or catalog available for customers to browse and request additional items.