Jennifer Holmes, one-half of the husband and wife team responsible for fast-growing retail and e-commerce shops Home & Company, Tip Toes, and Jean Marie’s, explains exactly how she grew one store to three (and soon four!) — and the hot product trends she’ll be eyeing on trade show floors next month. Hint: Think fun and affordable fashion.
Twelve years ago, husband and wife team Matt and Jennifer Holmes opened Home & Company, a gift and décor business located in Holland, Michigan. Today, they’re also running two more successful stores: Tip Toes, which offers baby gear, clothing, and accessories, and Jean Marie’s, where women can shop for clothing, jewelry, and handbags.
This spring, the couple plans to establish a second location of Jean Marie’s.
Jennifer recently spoke with the ASD Insider about how she emphasizes trendiness in her stores, where she learned how to run a retail business, and tips for spotting the best merchandise at ASD Market Week, the leading B2B merchandise trade show in the U.S.
ASD Insider: How did you get started with your retail businesses?
JENNIFER HOLMES: We started our first retail store in 2005, 12 years ago! It was 2012 when we were first introduced to the ASD market. We became members of the Southwest Buying Group [a collective of independent retailers] and several of the members raved about going to ASD.
When we first went for ourselves, we instantly understood why there was so much buzz. Prices were low and potential was high. At the time we only had our gift store and children’s store, so we mainly ordered from the gift, jewelry, and accessory vendors. We quickly realized that there was a lot of potential in the fashion and jewelry category.
Jean Marie’s Website
Jean Marie’s tagline? “Fun and Affordable Fashion.”
In 2015, we decided to open a ladies boutique, Jean Marie’s, in a separate location. It was easy to fill a whole 1,500 square foot space of beautiful margin-building merchandise from the ASD market. Jean Marie’s boasts the tagline “fun-affordable-fashion.” It has been doing very well, and we are opening our second location in May. We attribute a lot of the success to the ASD market, connections made with the vendors at ASD, and the sharing that exists between the dynamic members of the Southwest Buying Group.
AI: Are there any specific products you look for at ASD?
JH: We opened up Jean Marie’s based on the jewelry we were buying from ASD. We’re now buying more and more fashionable clothing, which has been huge for us. A large part of what we order is the accessories: the purses, wallets, and jewelry, as well as fashion items like clothing, scarves, and ponchos.
Did you know that buying and merchandising multiple categories can supercharge your retail sales? Read ASD’s Guide to Crossover Buying Here.
We look for items for really good prices that we can use for marketing materials and promotions within the store. For example, we’ll find a garden stake at a really good price. We’ll order a large quantity of it and then use it in our marketing on social media or we’ll put it in a newspaper leaflet and market it as a hot buy. It was something that was regularly $19.99 and if you come in now it’s $5.99. We’re still making our full margin because we were able to buy it at such a great price.
AI: What makes a vendor stand out to you?
JH: It’s primarily pricing and also trends. I’m always looking for the newest item that’s on the market, along with a great price. We have certain vendors that we always go to first because they have the latest and greatest on the market.
AI: As a business owner, what are your biggest challenges?
JH: One of our objectives is to stay fresh and new, and to set our store apart from others with trending merchandise. In this day and age, trends change so quickly. The competition is stiff, and the consumers are savvy. We work hard to keep up, offering the latest and greatest “must-have” products. Not only have we found vendors that are on top of the trends, but we have also developed great working relationships with them. Having these connections has helped immensely in providing knowledge and exceptional product with great profit margin throughout the course of our year.
Deb Kraai (left) and Jean Osterhaven (right) at Jean Marie’s retail location.
AI: What are your signature/most important products and why?
JH: Our most important products are the products that allow us to make the most profit margins. Fashion, jewelry, and accessories are categories where we see a lot of margin potential — products that have a great perceived value at a lower than average wholesale price
AI: How does the trade show help you find the products you need for your businesses?
JH: When we come to ASD we are looking for items that complement the name brand products we may offer. It is rewarding to find items that will fit in nicely while offering such a great profit margin potential.
Jennifer’s Retail 101 Cheat Sheet
- Always be looking for high-margin products
- If you’re not carrying fashion and jewelry – start now!
- Promote key low-price products in your marketing materials to drive foot traffic
- Listen and learn – network with or join a collective of retailers to source trends, products, aggregate buying power, and for networking
- Trade shows — the best place to find product and build relationships!
We come to market with a plan of particular products that need to fit into specific categories. It is helpful to have an idea of where you can find those categories. We have also started following the ASD Instagram when we are at the shows. It’s as though someone is scouting great finds with/for you.
AI: How has it been to run your own retail store business?
JH: It’s been great and we enjoy it. We’ve evolved quite a bit because we’ve learned so much from other retailers through the Southwest Buying Group. We find out which vendors and products are working well. Having that research is huge. In a small business, we’ve found that you definitely can take away more if you’re learning from other people.
AI: What is your best piece of advice for retail entrepreneurs just starting out?
JH: I would say to listen to other retailers and take note of what’s working for them. We have a lot of connections that we’ve made them along the way. Things went better when we listened to what other people were doing.
Photo Credit: deVries Photography