The red carpet is rolled up and ready to unfurl. The limousine is booked, and the caterer has a stellar menu planned for Sunday’s Oscar awards ceremony and celebration.
But this glitzy and glamorous party is taking place 3,000 miles due east of Hollywood at Revolution in the sleepy railroad town of White River Junction, VT.
“We sell a lot of party dresses, so about four years ago, my employee’s husband said, ‘You should do an Oscar night party,’” recalled Kim Souza, managing partner of Revolution. We chatted while she worked, steaming milk for a free cappuccino to hand to a customer and ringing up a sale to Ronnie Earl, a legendary blues guitarist who wandered into the store before a local gig.
“There is a lot of great stuff in here,” said Earl, who bought a vintage leather jacket and sipped a cup of coffee before heading over to the Tupelo Music Hall for his show. As he left, a local blues band was setting up for a First Friday performance in the store. (First Friday events draw shoppers to stores and art galleries in cities across the country).
Live or recorded music, free coffee and a relaxed vibe puts shoppers in the mood to peruse a quirky mix of vintage, consignment and edgy designer clothes. Revolution also sells costume jewelry, new and used shoes, sweaters, hats and accessories.
Opened about 10 years ago as part of the downtown revitalization effort, Revolution has seen other stores come and go. Yet Souza has weathered recessions, blizzards and a dearth of fashion-conscious customers in part by hosting a series of popular events.
An experienced event planner, she also produces a spectacular, always sold-out Spring fashion show featuring 40 clients as models, a light show and live DJ. Poetry slams, screenplay readings and musical performances frequently take place in the store.
“All the events we produce keep our name out there,” said Souza, who maintains a lively and popular Facebook page. “They keep people talking about us and makes a direct connection between the store and doing things that are fun.” (Get tips on how to maintain a stellar Facebook page.)
But, it’s the annual Oscar-watching party that draws more than 150 people into the small store every February. Most years, it’s snowing and in the 20’s, but that doesn’t deter people from donning tuxedos and sparkly gowns to attend the party.
But selling vintage and designer clothes in a small Vermont town has not been easy. About five years ago, things were so bad, Revolution was facing closure. To keep the lights on, Souza worked several part-time jobs, while caring for her young son. She was a cocktail waitress on the weekends, an event planner for a local nonprofit organization and a bookkeeper for a local architect.
“The store was spiraling down,” recalls Souza. “I had so many jobs, I couldn’t focus on the store.”
Luckily, in 2007, she found a local investor who provided the cash needed to keep the store open and expand its offerings. She helps select clothing and provides guidance, but is not involved in day-to-day operations. Souza says the store is on solid footing, but the privately-held company does not release financial information.
“Many of the fabulous clothes they sell are designed and made in the White River Junction area, supporting regional artists,” says Liz Canner, a filmmaker and loyal customer. Canner said she’s looking forward to attending “the most glamorous event of the Upper Valley, the Oscar party…where the local stars outshine all the tinsel in Hollywood.”
The upcoming Oscar party is truly the talk of the town. On Feb. 26, Souza and her co-workers will push the rolling racks of clothes against the walls and set up a projector and big screen. She talked a local satellite company into installing a dish just for the big weekend.
The party kicks off with a cash bar in the lobby of the nearby Hotel Coolidge. From the hotel, guests pile into a stretch limo for a complimentary ride around the block to Revolution. Everyone strolls down the red carpet in front of Revolution while photographers from the local newspaper and a video crew shoot the scene. During the party, guests fill out paper ballots to award prizes for the best dressed man and woman, among others.
If you own a retail store, think about what you can do to attract new and loyal customers. Parties are great, but you can also host a food or clothing drive or offer space for a class or seminar. And, don’t forget to spend time and money on your store windows: Change displays frequently.
If you don’t have the skills, hire a professional window dresser, or visual merchandiser as they are called. Many small-business owners rely on freelance professionals, who charge between $30 and $100 an hour, according to Urit Chaimorvitz, a former regional visual coordinator for Tiffany. Some visual merchandisers charge by the project, especially if they will be moving merchandise around and setting up new in-store displays. You may be able to barter some services for store merchandise to reduce the cash outlay. (Get more tips on bartering.)
A great window display “starts a dialogue with your customer,” says Chaimorvitz, adding that it is a way to “get inside your customer’s head.”
Meredith Moore, an independent visual merchandiser in the Boston area agrees.
“What’s in the window really starts the sale and gets the customer in the door.”
Photo credit: Jane Applegate