We know that you know Crush. Today, we give you the two lovely ladies behind this fabulous store that you stop in whenever you pass by. We sat down with Laura & Rebecca a few weeks ago in their Charles Street location to dish on their past, present and future.
Who are those gals?! We present Rebecca Hall and Laura Macris of Crush Boutique Beacon Hill & Back Bay, two childhood friends who ran with a dream! See?! It is possible!
Charles Street location
JUGs: Ladies! As a trio of friends with a common idea who ran with “it,” we love that Crush started out the same way! You both grew up together then took separate paths in college and professionally, yet your idea for Crush was always a dream for you. Could you tell us more about how each of your experiences as a young adult have helped you in the business world?
Rebecca & Laura:
Absolutely! When Laura & I were growing up, we always thought we would have a clothing store. Our parents both encouraged us to attend a school that was not completely focused on fashion, but more for a well-rounded liberal arts based education, so we did that, myself at Union College and Laura at Lafayette College. When we graduated, I worked in finance at Price Waterhouse Coopers, which was actually really helpful because it gave me structure, taught me how to budget, things of that nature.
I worked for a small public relations firm which I think helped us in reaching out to people when launching our store, and also helped me learn all the elements that contribute to making a small business successful.
My job following PWC was working at Calypso on Newbury Street as an assistant manager, which helped me learn how to manage people and how a corporate boutique runs. I also gained exposure to various designers, but it was at another boutique, Mint Julep, where I found and learned the most pertinent information of how to plan events, reach out to customers, how to buy, accounting work, payroll, and Laura started working there part time, so she gained sales and customer service skills as well.
It’s clear your store is appropriately named… you seem to crush competition! What is one significant change in yourself you’ve noticed since you premiered on Charles Street seven years ago that has led to your joint success?
Having opened Crush #1 on Charles Street, it has given me a set of interpersonal skills, confidence and satisfaction just knowing that people come in here seeking our knowledge and help. They leave feeling better about themselves and events that are happening in their lives, which is an incredibly satisfying experience! In terms of helping the business grow, having direct contact with our customers and shoppers has helped Crush become a better store because our buy (what we buy from design stores and trade shows) is more tailored to people that are actually stepping foot in the door. Having that 1:1 relationship with the customer has helped me grow as a person, has given me more skills and confidence, and additionally, has better tailored what we offer in the store to what people want to buy.
Exactly, and it’s really rewarding, we’ve had customers who have been with us since we opened our doors… We’ve been able to be part of so many milestones. We’ve watched customers graduate high school and go to college, or graduate college and get first jobs, or go out on a first date, get engaged and married, or have kids… all of those events give you a sense of who you are buying for, it’s great to know “oh, so-and-so would love this.”
Or everyone has been saying that we have fabulous dresses, but what they’re struggling with is finding a store that offers tops to wear under a jacket for “business casual” attire and pairings for separates that may be lacking in our store and in other stores for our customer at any given time, allowing us to tailor selection according to our customer’s needs.
With your equally-as-successful sister store on Newbury street that opened last year, how have you maintained Crush’s mission statement between the two locations?
I think that the second location helped us to tailor our mission statement even more than before. Since the two stores are pretty close to each other, we were going to try to do something totally different and pick up different designers. However, we realized that the basic aesthetic that works here (Charles Street) was what our customer over there was looking for, so we’ll do slightly different buys for each, yet the overall aesthetic is similar and brought us back to our original concept.
Yeah, and I’d also say that even though we’ve branched out to a second location, our original mission statement was always to provide exceptional customer service in a warm, comforting environment where we have a mix of low and high price points, and we have designers that are not everywhere. They’re not in a ton of department stores and readily accessible everywhere. We found that having two stores, Laura and I have split up somewhat but have maintained our mission statement of that comfortable, relaxed environment. This allows us to maintain close relationships with our customers since we each tend to be in one store at a time. The girls that we hire basically go through a personality screening, they’re a wonderful person; they’re warm, friendly, kind, gregarious… so we’ve kept to our original mission statement by putting ourselves in the store, having staff who emulate the environment we want for our customers, as well as providing the eclectic range of designers.
How did you come about procuring the locations of each boutique?
We actually found our first location on Craigslist! I answered an ad and went to scope out the space on a cold, rainy Boston day and it just worked out. In terms of choosing a location (both), we looked at demographics, foot traffic on a weekday and weekend basis, really focusing on the feel because what makes Crush, Crush is that it feels cozy and homelike, which was a big part of it. For our second location, while we knew we wanted to expand we didn’t want to jump into it without the perfect locale. There were many times we thought we found it, but we’d hem and haw, and knew it wasn’t right. When we found the space on Newbury Street, something clicked and it felt right.
When we think of Crush, we picture pieces for any city gal’s budget. How do you consistently cater to this in choosing which pieces to carry?
That’s really tough because sometimes with the lower priced lines, they’re at a different buying show than the majority of contemporary designers, thus it requires additional time to scope out both shows. We have found moderately priced designers that offer solid, consistent collections that are contemporary, fashion-forward and are fun. We make a point to visit these lower priced designers at every buying show while also making time for our higher priced designers. You don’t just go to see Twelfth Street and Alice & Olivia even though they have gorgeous things, you have to visit the lower priced designers because 1) they do have pieces that are absolutely fabulous and 2) you have to have the variety for everyone’s budget.
It’s so easy to buy all of the high price point lines, so we do our homework in researching those at a lower budget so we get the mix-and-match our customers seek.
What are some business challenges you have faced as boutique owners?
New stores opening can be tough, along with the online world. One of the things we’ve noticed over the years, more so than when we first started out on Charles Street, are the new openings. Wish and Holiday were already in BH when we opened and we had to secure lines so as not to have the same designers as other neighborhood boutiques, but now we have Vira, NRO and Dress. There is definitely more competition on the street. In some ways this is good, because in having more locally-owned businesses on the street, it drives tourists and others into the city, but on the other hand we might see something in a magazine that we want to carry, but a competitor might already carry that item and/or line, so we can’t have it. In terms of the online flash sales (Gilt Groupe, Rue La La), those type of daily deals can affect us because although a customer will recognize a brand that we carry on a flash site, yeah, you can buy it on Rue La La, you can buy it on that specific day from a given inventory, but the in-store experience offers a wider selection of the entire collection . Sometimes people don’t realize this, so it’s about being aware of the value of the collection we’ve chosen by hand, and educating the customer that because it’s on a flash site, it can tend to mean it didn’t do very well.
I wouldn’t say this was a struggle, but part of our business evolution has been adapting to social media. In 2007, we didn’t even have a business page on facebook. Keeping yourself relevant on twitter, pinterest, and facebook, is an absolute must these days, so we’ve had to adapt to that.
Who do you look to for inspiration, either personal or business-related?
That’s a good question, there are so many ways I could answer this. I think for fashion-related inspiration I look to People Style Watch. With celebrities having unlimited budgets and access to couture designers they have excellent style.
I personally love Olivia Palermo’s style, her personal style blog.
As cheesy as this may sound, we look a lot to celebrities for what people want to look, feel and dress like, so we gain inspiration for trends. Right now it’s those floppy hats and leather detail. For personal inspiration, I’d say my family. When I go home, we talk about business tactics, and I find it inspiring to have a family of entrepreneurs.
Other businesses like Shopbop and Kitson have always had fun trendy pieces and a strong online presence. I look at a lot of those retailers who started small but grew in their online ventures for my inspiration.
What advice would you give to someone starting their own business? Advice for those entering the field of fashion?
Research! Hands-on research. One of our full time employees worked for us because she wanted to open her own boutique, and after a year here, she said “I’m going to leave because I don’t think this is the career for me. I thought it would be all about buying, dress-up and being around beautiful things all day, but I had NO idea how hands-on it would be.” So now she works in a corporate environment as an executive assistant and teaches yoga on the side. Although she had fun working here, the thought of owning her business was no longer a fun hobby, it was a lot of work, and she saw that. The best advice I can give to anyone is to go work in that business, go do it. Start from the ground up and see if you like being that involved with the various facets of the job. It’s not just buying clothes, dressing mannequins and people, you need the relative experience.
Look at the different avenues, see what works, what doesn’t, and try it all out.
A friend of ours wanted to get into fashion buying and ended up sitting behind a desk all day running numbers rather than actually buying products.
What do you see in the future for Crush?
We go back-and-forth. Eventually, we’d like to expand, but we recently revamped our e-commerce site in 2011 and opened a second brick-and-mortar store in 2012. Between running our online site and the two stores, and continuing to be so hands-on in the two stores daily, our plates are full right now.
We’ve discussed hiring someone to help expand our online presence, or maybe having a pop-up on Nantucket or seasonal location elsewhere. In the immediate moment, we’re not keeping any secrets, we’re not going there yet, but those are the two avenues we may explore.
Do you have any dream vendor collaborations or certain pieces you’d like to carry?
In general, pieces we’d want to carry we get to carry, it’s a huge range. We never thought we’d be able to carry a $700 fur & leather jacket, but we do! We tested it and it went well. Alice & Olivia is one of my favorites, so if she wanted to do a private label for us, that would be really cool. I think that another fabulous line as far as patterns go, and one we have carried from the start, is Rory Beca. If she wanted to do a collaboration, we would be thrilled.
I would have said Alice & Olivia, as well, I love everything that she does, especially her dresses. Parker is another amazing line, they’re a bit edgier (used to be boho, but have evolved) and they’re now found everywhere, which is crazy to us because they used to be a small collection of dyed silks, and now they’ve gotten huge.
Unfortunately they’re at a few department stores, which is good for them and shows their growth, and have a huge presence on Shopbop, but it’s crazy because they were one of our baby brands we just took a chance on, so it’s exciting to see how far they’ve come!
As 20-somethings, we’re trying to edit our closets and would love to know your “staple” pieces for a gal’s wardrobe!
I think what is great to have in your wardrobe are solid, silk blouses. You can wear them with jeans, dressed up tucked into a skirt, you can wear them with a suit to the office, you can wear them with skinny jeans and heels to go out in the evening. In my younger years, i’d buy the printed blouses we carried, but I looked in my closet and all I saw were printed blouses! So solid blouses are what you can wear more frequently, you can mix-and-match them. They’re just a great investment.
For mine, it’s three pieces: an excellent, fitted pair of jeans, an awesome white T-shirt and a fabulous leather jacket...those are the three things you need to survive in my world.
As local business owners, what do you see for the future of your Bostonian customer and/or Boston fashion?
Going with the times! Boston has evolved so much, it’s amazing. There are times we have not given our customer enough credit and we’ve held off on carrying a trend, such as printed denim… but when we got our first style in, they flew off the shelves. Now we’re offering vegan leather leggings, styles with mesh cut-outs and other fashions we were previously scared to try. The Boston girl has become more trendy and evolved with the times. I think that fashion has become a lot more paramount in her life.
When we first opened our Beacon Hill store, the neighborhood felt more conservative, predictable and preppy, and we thought we needed to be that. We’d throw in bits of sexiness, edginess or Bohemian LA style and people were loving it! We decided that we’re always going to have basics like dark wash denim, white T-shirts, plain silk tops and great sweaters, but we also always try to hit the mark on the season’s best-selling styles and trends, and Boston has become increasingly fashion conscious. The Boston girl is riskier and more adventurous than she used to be, and we think that is only going to continue. I think we’re one of the best dressed cities, if I do say so myself, i’d say NY>Boston>LA.
I agree. While I love LA style, it can be somewhat grungy and piecey.
Boston is more timeless and put together.
We like the sloppy, oversized look sometimes, but if you’re actually going out to a nice lunch, you look ratty. Women I see in Boston are put together but also stylish, and we’re excited that Boston is continuing in a fashion-forward direction.
We are heading into the festive holiday season! What are some of Crush’s pieces you would recommend our readers to grab for their holiday soirees?
Parker beaded dresses, Amanda Uprichard silk fit-to-flare dresses(silk gown with leather bodice) and Shoshanna lace pieces for the classic girl.
They’re all on our instagram account. We also have a red Rory Beca gown that is gorgeous.
Do you have any upcoming promotions that we can share with our readers? How can our readers be best-informed with store events and such?
We have an email list that we send blasts to with event information. We also post events to our facebook, twitter and instagram pages. We’re doing a fashion show geared toward holiday looks, including looks for casual and dressy occasions (looks from corporate holiday parties to drinks out with the girls), this Thursday, December 5th at the Liberty Hotel.
We’re hosting holiday strolls coming up at both locations, on the 12th (Charles) and the 14th (Newbury). We’ll have complimentary refreshments and snacks, maybe even an additional promotion… stay tuned!
Q U I C K I E S
Favorite spot in your neighborhood:
R) Toscana, it’s a rustic Italian restaurant with beautiful washed brick walls and a great ambiance. It’s perfect for date night. For a girl’s night out, I’d say the Liberty Hotel is still one of my favorites.
L) For drinks & apps, 75 Chestnut. It is so cozy and I love the neighborhood vibe. It is impossible to go there without running into someone I know. I don’t have one specific favorite place in mind, but i also love all of the small shops and independently owned boutiques on Charles and Newbury Streets. They are great for scouting great finds and unique gifts.
Favorite thing about Boston:
R) Boston is a great, big “town”! It’s a city, yet easy to have a solid social network where you constantly run into familiar people. It’s close to skiing, great beaches, and I just think it’s great overall.
L) It’s a metropolitan city but has a small-town feel. I love NYC but it feels much more urban and thus less livable than Boston.
Charles Street or Newbury Street?
R) Charles because it’s so old school. Everyone knows everyone and all of the restaurants and stores are locally owned. It’s such a wonderful, quaint neighborhood.
L) I love Newbury because although it’s within Boston, it has a larger city feel. There are tons of eclectic restaurants, vibrancy and is constantly evolving. It’s so transient and you never know who might walk through the door.
Polka dots or stripes?
Coffee or Tea:
R) Coffee, nonfat Gingerbread latte
L) Coffee, Americano with a flavor shot
Gold or silver:
Favorite piece you carry in Crush:
R) hot pink Amanda Uprichard wrap skirt w/ black leather jacket
L) Parker beaded dress in cobalt blue
Rebecca with her picks
photo credits: Suzanne