Mississippi-based InStyle Auctions and Boutique initially launched its online business on Facebook in 2012, but has since expanded to a website and app, plus robust selling on social media. We caught up with owner Allison Albritton to see how much has changed for this ready to wear and accessories site over such a short period.
Who is your customer?
InStyle caters to all women! We recently launched a curvy collection and are looking into vendors that offer a petite and junior selection. The InStyle shopper is one on a budget that would like to have the most recent trends and styles but without breaking the bank. We truly value our customers’ opinions and love to offer exactly what they are shopping for.
What do you love most about being a retailer?
Providing a service to my customers truly makes me happy! I enjoy researching the latest trends and fashions and adapting them to be more “wearable” for the everyday woman. The retail environment is constantly changing; I never have a “normal” day and I like it! I really have fun with my job and I hope that shows to the customers we work with.
What is the hardest part of being a retailer?
I’d say juggling the many “hats” I wear on a daily basis! I am a mom, wife, CEO of the household, short order cook, chauffeur and boss lady at InStyle! It can be difficult to find the balance needed to take care of myself and my family. Throw a little (or a lot) of Mom Guilt in there and the day-to-day can be even more difficult. There are so many women in business today with these same struggles and I think it is important and empowering to find a support system within each other!
What sets you apart from your competition?
Great customer service is essential. I have a dedicated full-time customer service specialist that answers emails, Facebook messages, Instagram direct messages, etc. Over the course of six years we have grown to really know many of our customers and what they want. I also enjoy simply showing a customer how to style items! Even if she doesn’t shop with us immediately, she might find value in the info and remember InStyle when looking for a new outfit.
You started on Facebook. How are you using all social media now to connect with your audience?
The social media channels are constantly changing, allowing for the opportunity to reach customers in new ways. We started with Facebook and their demographic is 25-55 years old now. That’s where we built our business, but we’re excited about targeting younger customers with Instagram and Snapchat now too. Social media makes serving our customers so much fun! We have a Facebook business page and a FB VIP closed group. We post photos of items on both pages and customers can shop by commenting below the picture. Our VIP group is a group of “super fans” and we post coupons, sales and giveaways there first! She can shop 24/7 with us.
Has video grown more important?
Definitely! Just two months ago, on Thursdays and Sundays, we started a Live Shopping Show on Facebook. Our customers LOVE it! We have a great opportunity to connect with our customers in a real way and show the clothes in motion. Our shoppers can ask questions during the live show regarding fit or materials, and then they can purchase an item by commenting. Our videos are 30 minutes and they can also be rewatched at a later time, which is great. We are not professional videographers — we’ve definitely had our bloopers — but that keeps it real! My young daughter once ran across the video and I was worried about how that would look but it actually helped customers relate. We got so many comments! One wrote, ‘That’s my life right there!’
Compared to when you first started your store, what’s been the biggest change in the industry?
When I started InStyle almost six years ago the market was not nearly as crowded as it is today. I would go to market and vendors simply could not understand that I was solely (and successfully!) selling on a Facebook page and didn’t have a brick and mortar. The addition of so many successful online boutiques has really validated social selling in the eyes of the vendors and manufacturers.
Given what you know now, what advice would you give yourself when you were just starting your store?
Oh goodness! Where do I start? I would have certainly diversified our sales channels from the beginning if possible! I put all of my eggs in one basket in the beginning and quickly realized that my business was at the mercy of things out of my control (Facebook algorithm changes). It was a really tough lesson to learn but it ultimately made the business stronger. Also, I maintained my full-time job in sales for two years prior to diving into InStyle full time. At the same time, I had a newborn and a two year old. Yikes!! I was overwhelmed and exhausted! It was really tough, and I wish I had made the plunge into InStyle much sooner!