With new platform, Lincoln duo aims to boost boutiques’ in-store sales
Boutique Window plans to sell its online marketing platform to small businesses for about $40 per month.
Sarah Gauger knows that if the resale and consignment shop her mother started in the late '70s is to survive, she needs to attract a new generation of customers.
So she and her mother and sister rebranded the Lincoln store two years ago, changing the name from One More Time to omt! She also started loading photos of merchandise onto Facebook, but found it cumbersome, tedious and not enjoyable.
"I'm not a good computer person because I'm of a certain age," she said.
Gauger is a picture-perfect beta tester for the new Lincoln startup Boutique Window.
"Immediately, I said this will make my life easier, because marketing is the most time-consuming thing I do," she said.
Boutique Window's creators describe it as "a central online marketing tool for stores." It allows retailers to upload, optimize and group photos of merchandise and post to Facebook, Twitter, the store's website and Boutique Window in one fell swoop.
"This is a tool that a retailer can see value in because it's using existing social networks that they and their shoppers are already using," co-founder Courtney Rodgers (far right) said. "This is a pretty engaging experience."
She and Ella Reeves Wirtz (near right) came up with the idea last summer. The two friends were feeling "static" in their careers as interactive strategists for a local advertising agency, and started brainstorming "projects" in June. Their first idea was a downtown doggy daycare, but they quickly realized that they could only afford to rent enough space to fit their own four dogs.
Boutique Window came next. Rodgers and Wirtz describe themselves as passionate about local and vintage shopping, and they wondered why their favorite shops weren't taking better advantage of social media and today's technology, even if they weren't ready to tackle full-blown e-commerce sites.
"As a shopper, if I didn't happen to see a post on Facebook when they made it, I would never see it," Wirtz said. With small local shops that stock just a few of each item, that often meant they missed their chance at new merchandise.
They started buying coffee for any retailer who would talk with them, and discovered that the main hangups were time, lack of technical skills and the limitations of Facebook's albums, which were not designed to display merchandise. They needed something easy and intuitive, that wouldn't take too much time from other tasks like inventory control, payroll and selling.
By August, the "project" felt like something more, and both founders quit their day jobs and started writing a business plan and designing prototypes.
"We are very lucky to have some close friends and our husbands who have skills we could put to use," Rodgers said. (Their husbands are Hudl's chief product officer John Wirtz and vice president of user experience Kyle Murphy.)
Now, they have 11 beta testers up and running, including omt! (above), seven other shops in Lincoln and one each in Omaha, Portland, Ore. and Sioux Falls, S.D.
Rodgers and Wirtz feel "super lucky to have a community of stores that are super helpful." Their hope is that those stores and their customers will help spread the word from the Midwest toward the coasts when they are ready to leave beta later this year. They plan to offer a 15-day free trial and month-to-month service contracts starting at about $40 per month.