With the advent of e-commerce and the lingering effects of 2008’s recession, the world of retail has changed drastically in recent years. So it’s big news when a store sticks around for a decade.
Stephanie’s was founded in September 2004 in St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood by St. Paul native Stephanie Morrissey. Then 26, the entrepreneur was fresh from managing a women’s clothing boutique in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, before she decided to move back home and start her own business. Since then, she’s opened and closed a second location, become a mother, added a dress rental service, and weathered changing trends–with aplomb.
Beginning this Friday, Morrissey kicks off a month of trunk shows, discounts, giveaway, treats, and of course, champagne, in celebration of the milestone. Friday’s festivities includes a trunk show featuring luxury knitwear from Canadian company LINE Knitwear (Sarah Jessica Parker, Oprah, and Taylor Swift are fans) and leather jackets, sweaters, and coats from LINE’s sister brand John & Jenn. Upcoming trunk shows include local jewelry from Helen Wang (September 12) and mother-daughter team Tess + Tricia (September 19) and handmade leather handbags from GiGi New York (September 26).
I chatted with Morrissey about the past, present, and future of Stephanie’s, the benefits of dress rentals, and her secret to success. (Hint: It’s her customers.)
Let’s start at the beginning. After you graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in entrepreneurship, you moved to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where you managed a women’s clothing boutique. What inspired you to make the move back to St. Paul and open your own store?
My husband was working for a contracting company, I was managing a boutique, and both companies wanted to sell them to us. I realized I wanted to start fresh, from the ground up, and go through the whole process of it. I didn’t want to buy someone else’s name. And I wanted to start a family, and be back in Minnesota. It was the right time to move back. We started as a mother-daughter shop. My mother, who’s actually here celebrating with me today, used to be the supplier with me here, because we love shopping together. She’s 66, I’m 36.
Ten years is practically unheard of in today’s retail climate. You weathered the recession of 2008. To what do you attribute your staying power?
My customers. I opened a second location at 50th & France in Edina in August 2008. The economy crashed two months after we opened. The thing that kept us afloat during that time was the loyalty we had from our Highland Park customers. They weren’t spending as much, but they were still coming in, and it changed the dynamic of things. We work from what they already have in their wardrobe and supplement where they need it. And we have a pretty classic style, so if they’re going to buy a $300 dress, it’s not going to go out of style in a few years.
Stephanie’s carries contemporary lines such as Tibi and Yoana Baraschi alongside classic brands like David Meister and Nicole Miller. How do you keep things fresh while still catering to your longtime clients?
It’s really just having an eye for knowing what is more trendy–you might splurge on more classic styles that will stay in your closet. We will get some edgier pieces, but we know that’s not for every customer. We know which styles will be classic, which silhouettes and colors. It’s about hand-selecting everything.
How has the shop evolved over the years?
Over the years we’d see mothers and daughters, then all of a sudden they’re in their college years and then they’re moms–they’ve grown up with me. The shop has kind of aged with our clientele. At the same time, we want to maintain that edge because we have a college crowd in the area. Having a younger staff is helping me keep a youthful side to what we carry, but having a classic style is what keeps us going strong.
Who is the Stephanie’s customer?
It’s hard to nail down, but the median is probably the young moms, the younger professionals, but I get a more mature customer who is more fashion forward who’s going to galas, traveling a lot.
You recently added a dress rental service. What inspired this addition?
We’ve been really well known for our dresses–mother-of-the-bride, prom, galas, weddings in general–we really starting to see a lot of our customers coming specifically for that. We do carry the T-shirts and jeans, but we love our dresses. Because those clients are going to multiple galas and multiple weddings, and they don’t want to spend a lot of money if they’re only going to wear those dresses once, so it makes sense. And we have these leftover dresses at the end of the season so instead of putting them on sale, we decided to rent them. We take care of the dry cleaning and everything.
Looking ahead, where do you see Stephanie’s in five years? Ten years?
It’s so hard to say. When I was younger I had so many goals and I’ve attained those goals so I’m grateful for that, but having a more online presence is definitely important–we’re currently working on an online shop. And just continuing to offer the best clothes and best designers at multiple price points for my customers. Also, I see myself being in the store a lot more once my kids are in school!
Stephanie’s celebrates ten years of business with weekly happy hours 4-7 p.m. Fri., Sept. 5., Sept. 12, Sept. 19 & Sept. 26. 758 Cleveland Ave. S., St. Paul, 651-690-3802, stephaniesshop.com
[Images courtesy Stephanie’s]