Usually, Chelby Smith expects to make a high percentage of vacation sales for her business, Sonora Roads Boutique, at a reception she hosts right after Thanksgiving at Lindsay Creek Vineyards in Lewiston.
Her customers mingle when they shop, nibble on snacks and sip wine while browsing her inventory of women’s, children’s and men’s clothing that she sells online and at community events.
This approach seemed to be working this year, even in the coronavirus pandemic, especially when it hosted a similar event in August that drew 300 people.
Then came the recent spike in coronavirus cases that prompted Idaho Gov. Brad Little to limit public gatherings to 10 people or fewer, forcing Smith to pivot.
Shes converted her basement into a showroom, making appointments with customers if they want to try on clothes.
If there’s anything this year that has taught me to roll with the punches and be flexible, because we have no other choice, she said.
Making changes to meet the needs of her customers and herself is familiar territory for Smith, who founded what is now Sonora Roads Boutique half a decade ago. It recently won Idaho’s Online Store of the Year award from The Boutique Hub, a professional group in the retail industry.
Smith started out as a LuLaRoe clothing representative when she lived in New Plymouth, Idaho. Similar to Avon and Tupperware, LuLaRoe reps sell from their homes, not physical stores.
At the time, she was doing Medicaid billing for the St. Alphonsus health system and was ending a relationship with the father of her twins, who are now 5 years old.
I liked (St. Alphonsus’s work), but it didn’t feed my soul, said Smith, who attended DECA, a student organization aimed at developing skills in marketing, finance, hospitality and management. , in high school.
When I got the chance to start my own clothing business, (I thought) that’s what I’m supposed to do, she says.
LuLaRoe supplemented her income and provided her with a way to meet new people without taking her away from her children. It grew so rapidly that within a year it was able to leave the post of St. Alphonsus and return to the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley.
One of the reasons she’s been so successful, Smith said, is because she provides a lot of information about the clothes she sells to help her customers online understand how they’re going to fit.
My business works because I have built a lot of confidence, she says.
It seeks affordable parts made with strong fabrics constructed of a quality sufficient to withstand intense daily wear and tear and accepts returns when merchandise does not meet customer expectations.
I think people work really hard for their money, so I think they deserve to have something they really like for their purchase, she said.
It was the tastes of her clients that led her to change her business model two years ago by abandoning LuLaRoe.
There was a definitive change (to LuLaRoe) that didn’t meet the needs of the clientele I had, she says.
The replacement she chose was a mix of over 50 brands she found painting on the internet and following the tracks of her father, a horse trainer who attends many rodeos.
Its inventory includes basics such as T-shirts, tank tops, leggings and bralettes in solid color, as well as dresses and other clothing for special occasions.
Many of the items reflect her Western roots and come from brands such as Kimes Ranch, Rowdy Crowd Clothing, and First American Traders.
I had a lot of people who trusted me and followed me with the vision I had for my brand, said Smith.
The departure of supermarkets from the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley and the start of the coronavirus pandemic prompted it to refine its approach even further.
At the request of her clients, she expanded her selection of children’s clothing and added interior design and menswear.
I have seen an increase in the number of people searching for these types of articles, she said.
The pandemic has also shaped the business climate. Sales fell dramatically at the end of March when many businesses temporarily closed their doors, then recovered when stimulus checks from the Coronavirus Help, Relief and Economic Security Act kicked off. started to arrive. Smith is reluctant to predict the strength of Christmas sales.
I am really proud of what I have accomplished and I hope it will continue to be successful, she said.