How Hampden Boutique Beat the Small Business Odds

When Stacy Smallwood arrived up with the notion for Hampden, her Charleston-dependent luxurious boutique, she was residing in Dallas and working as a buyer for Neiman Marcus. Her position gave her the opportunity to interact with a wide selection of trend manufacturers but she always considered the designers she was most fired up to obtain seemed much more suited for an personal retail experience. “I saw a market in the current market when manufacturers like Rag and Bone and 3.1 Phillip Lim were being gaining traction. It was a cool second in manner and I understood [they] have been improved served in a specialty keep,” she remembers. So when a 1,500 square foot space opened up on King Street, a person of the city’s important professional thoroughfares, she decided to consider a leap of faith and open up up her personal boutique.

Around the training course of a ten years, Hampden swiftly grew to become a cult most loved between women of all ages across the state who preferred to explore smaller, harder to discover designers or get simple luxurious parts that made sense with their city existence. Up until eventually 2020, the boutique was in excellent firm among the very similar impartial merchants like Brooklyn’s Chicken, Seattle’s Totokaelo, and Will need Source, the Richmond, Virginia retail outlet turned promising e-commerce platform. Even though all those all shuttered, as casualties of the pandemic, Hampden has not only survived but scaled up: Smallwood’s place on King Road is now a lot more than 10,000 sq. ft and she also has a 7,200 foot distribution center for her brisk e-commerce organization.

Stacy Smallwood with Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez at Hampden’s Proenza Schouler pop-up shop.

Hunter Abrams/Courtesy of Hampden

Attaining financial accomplishment was not assured, particularly given that 1 calendar year into her boutique’s opening came the economic crash of 2008. Though mainstream retail was battling, it was a blessing in disguise for Hampden. “I seen the foot sample of purchasers on King Avenue. They did not want to wander that additional block to uncover my retail outlet. So when a place opened up that was nearer, I made the decision to go for it.” The new house, when conveniently found, was also double the size for the same total of rent. It was a big dedication, due to the fact she’d require to fill the keep with additional goods but Smallwood knew she had to go for it. “Taking that threat at that minute when things ended up the worst was the greatest determination I ever made then,” she suggests.

However the boutique now occupies a formidable part of its block on King Avenue, approximately 70% of its buyers are essentially out of state and shop on the web. Smallwood experienced the foresight to diversify her viewers from the get-go, realizing that relying exclusively on brick-and-mortar would not be the smartest way to develop her business enterprise when she opened up in 2007. Whilst other makes and retailers were being reluctant to present e-commerce at the time, Hampden did the reverse, “I’ve really experienced a internet site considering that the day I opened the retail outlet,” she suggests. That conclusion turned out to be particularly prescient when 2020 hit, and the pandemic compelled her to quickly suspend in-man or woman buying. Even though other boutiques ended up forced to furlough workforce or shut down for good, Hampden was able to retain 7 employees on whole salary and survive a pandemic.

Hampden’s strong countrywide clientele also serves as a buffer specified how polarized the political local climate has come to be. Along with the pandemic came two yrs of racial reckonings, mask and vaccine mandates, and other thorny scenarios. There is an expectation for organizations and brand names to stand up for their beliefs, which then can either attract or repel prospects, depending on your individual beliefs. Charleston, a somewhat progressive metropolis, is even now a portion of the conserative South, and one Instagram tale or write-up can be more than enough to switch off a substantial portion of the state. But thankfully that may well not make any difference when the greater part of Hampden’s shoppers hail from all about the place.

Smallwood’s instincts aren’t just minimal to true estate and e-commerce conclusions, she also trusts her intestine when it will come to getting for the store. “What finishes up separating us from a department retailer is our exclusive voice and saying, I am passionate about this. I am gonna consider a danger,” she states. To that conclude, Hampden presently carries more than 175 manufacturers that selection from luxury labels like Stella McCartney, Marni, and Proenza Schouler to scaled-down brand names like Brogger, Kika Vargas, and Victor Glemaud. Smallwood’s blend is doing work — in the previous calendar year the retailer has witnessed practically $1 million in Proenza Schouler income by yourself, proving that the store’s customers won’t hesitate to shell out cash on everything that Smallwood has put her seal of acceptance on.

Although Hampden might be exclusive in the South for its manner forward offerings, Smallwood has a more inclusive perspective on sizing, which is significantly less prevalent among the luxury shops. The shop offers a broader selection, within the limits of what fashion offers, and Smallwood isn’t afraid to fall a manufacturer if prospects cannot match into parts. “I’m not a measurement two so when I am in a marketplace appointment I feel about who the buyer is. I can glance at some thing and know that’s likely to be terrific on anyone who’s a sizing 10 with a larger upper body or a dimensions 12 who does not want to present her arms but even now wishes to appear feminine,” she says.

Understanding and connecting to her goal audience is probably Hampden’s largest solution weapon to its survival. Her boutique has observed females at all levels of their lives irrespective of whether it’s starting a new job, recovering soon after an ailment, or mourning a missing a single. “You’re in an intimate place with a girl who’s getting undressed and, and she’s there to say, help me appear very good and deal with the globe. The greatest reward we could ever have is to be there for these moments,” she says. She achieves this with a personable staff, which is obvious on social media, as the team shares their travels and driving the scenes snippets on Hampden’s Instagram account. It’s not unheard of for a shopper to notify Smallwood and her team that they manufactured a journey down to Charleston, specially to go to Hampden.

Building Hampden a spot for out-of-city shoppers and locals alike also contains web hosting ambitious activities that are on par with the types you’d frequently see at bigger stores in main towns. In the past Smallwood has lured designers like Tibi’s Amy Smilovic and Christopher John Rogers to appear and chat up her most loyal clientele at trunk demonstrates and functions.

In honor of the boutique’s milestone birthday, Hampden is not keeping back on events. “I consider that all that we’ve been through the previous 15 was worthy of celebrating all through the calendar year. It is a monumental thing as a retailer and smaller organization proprietor,” says Smallwood of the entire slate of occasions, which kicked off with a little 40 person evening meal with New York-primarily based label Sea back again in February. Given Proenza Schouler’s history of financially rewarding revenue, just this previous week Hampden threw a two-working day affair that involved a restaging of the brand’s fall 2022 display at their e-commerce distribution centre. Soon after the runway presentation, 150 clientele meandered above to a pop up area wherever they were capable to store the brand’s items. With a constant line at the register, it was a rousing achievement. Afterwards in the yr Smallwood ideas on activations with Marni as well as trunk displays with Rachel Gilbert, Brogger, and a lot more.

Hampden could be celebrating 15 decades, but Smallwood is also contemplating about the following 15, primarily as the South has develop into a buzzy spot for luxury manufacturers. As labels consider desire in Charleston, she is aware of Hampden is established up for good results in the potential, “I welcome any new shop on King Avenue due to the fact it helps elevate our metropolis as a browsing desired destination,” she claims. Whilst if you talk to any of her devoted enthusiasts, Hampden has previously completed extra than its fair share to previously establish Charleston as a style location, many thanks to Smallwood’s really hard perform.


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