Julie Ann has worked in retail forever, and always wanted to open her own store. She actually has a Master's Degree in Modern Art History and worked at a few local museums without job satisfaction and needless to say, monetary reward. Following the museum jobs, Julie Ann had a series of specialty retail positions, but was laid off from her last job Jan 2009 due to the economic slowdown.
I have been working as a designer and web developer since 2001 around town at Artvoice, The Buffalo Sabres, Core101, and as a freelance developer.
In April we went to the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender in Las Vegas, basically the Lollapolloza of the rockabilly / pin-up / classic car culture world. We had such a great time that on the plane home we started talking about starting our own store to bring those fashions to Buffalo.
Julie Ann has always loved and collected vintage clothing, but it's hard to find it in good condition and the sizing was much smaller then. So you repair and clean it, but it doesn't fit anyone. The solution: retro clothes. They are classic styles in modern fabrics that stretch and can be found in XS-XXXL. After doing some research and realizing there are no other similar stores in Western New York, we pursued the idea and made it a reality.
I continue to do freelance web design and work with Julie Ann in the store during the day.
2. Is your lifestyle outside of your business "retro" or "rockabilly?" How would you describe yourselves?
Yes we live the lifestyle. We enjoy dressing in vintage and retro clothes to go out swing dancing, to car shows, and concerts. It's funny because while we really connect with the music and the style we don't necessarily define ourselves that way. For example, Julie Ann loves industrial/EBM music as well as rockabilly, swing and surf. I'm in love with the new MUSE album, which is pretty much 70's glam rock. We like a lot of the simple pleasures of life: great music, great food, and great people.
3. What demographic are you looking to attract? Aside from the obvious niche market, who do you see most enjoying your products?
People who appreciate quality and recognize real value for the money are buying our products. Our shoppers aren't the people who want to spend as little as possible at Wal-Mart. The clothing we carry is stylish and extremely well made, with quality fabrics and metal zippers. A lot of our clothes are made in the U.S.A. as well.
According to our Facebook page, 85% of our Cats Like Us page fans are between 25-45, and they seem to be as eclectic as we are. In store we see high school students that shop for accessories, moms looking for baby onesies, career women looking for something different and classic to wear to the office, men who love bowling styled shirts, and alternative fashion seekers. And now that the Cats Like Us web store is online, we are attracting customers from all over the country.
4. Obviously your styles are unique, and relatively hard to find in this area. Are there any specific designers or labels you're particularly excited about carrying?
Basically we love everything in the store! Dungaree Dolly is one of our most popular brands and is particularly exciting because it is a company that is run by a local woman who only sells online and to a few choice stores around the world (and we are lucky enough to be one of them!) She makes all sorts of handbags, change purses, and hair accessories by hand from scratch in fun retro fabrics like Fuzzy Cheetah, Tattoo Flash, and Cupcakes just to name a few. The quality is outstanding and she's also a sweet person. We had a Dungaree Dolly trunk show in November, where she brought in a big variety of merchandise, some things we don't normally carry in our store like dog leashes and aprons and it was a huge success. We plan on having another one in spring.
5. If someone were to look for a gift idea at Cats Like Us, what would you recommend?
We have wonderful reproduction tiki mugs ranging in price from $10, to $32 for a set of 4. ( http://catslikeus.com/search?q=tiki .)
Plus we have Gift Cards in many amounts!
6. You have an online store and brick and mortar location. Did you start online and go live, or vice versa? How did you decide to expand in either direction? Which is the most popular?
We planned them at the same time, but started with our storefront and once settled in, we launched our online store about mid Nov. The brick and mortar store is actually doing better than we predicted and we just started the online store so it's a little early to tell which will be more popular. Most of our sales are coming from referrals and people who find us on Facebook. We expect the online sales to pick up and surpass the storefront simply because it reaches people globally. Plus it helps that we have free shipping over $100 in the U.S. and you can shop 24/7 online.
7. Do you have a mission statement or mantra for your business? What motivates you?
Julie Ann's personal mission is to outfit customers in clothes that look good and make them feel good. The modern sizing and stretchy/ comfortable fabrics encourage customers to want to wear the clothes. In this day and age it doesn't take much to look nice, when people are walking around sloppy in sweats and baggy T shirts.
I love design and style of the 50's and modern interpretations of those motifs, and am a big fan of illustrators such as Shag and Derek Yaniger. I'm also constantly delighted by the people we meet, that if we had not opened the store we never would have met.
8. If I remember correctly, you opened relatively recently. How do you feel about opening a specialty store in this economy? Have you encountered difficulties/setbacks in that area?
We opened around Oct 1st and many people couldn't believe it when we said we wanted to open a specialty clothing store. One of the keys to our business plan is that we are thinking regionally and nationally, not just locally. We did a lot of research in analyzing the competition, choosing location, budgeting carefully, and deciding what was really important to us. We have kept our costs down so we can start modestly and build. When the economic downturn becomes an upswing we will be very well positioned.
9. Do you have any holiday specials or hours people should know about?
In our online store we will be giving away fuzzy dice with every purchase while supplies last until Dec 25.
We do have in store events about once a month that you can sign up for with our newsletter. ( http://catslikeus.com/newsletter/ ) The next event will be in January to celebrate Elvis' birthday.
Please see the bottom of our website for current hours.