In Woodland, CA, there is a little haven for shoppers in need of a warm, friendly, and well-curated place to shop. Coincidentally, it’s called Haven A Boutique and it’s owner, Rosemarie Leonardi, is a welcoming and very open interviewee. In fact, so much so I’m going to need a separate article to address all the things we talked about! But for now, I want you to get to know Rosemarie and how her social media strategy was integral to launching her store and how she continues to grow her following and her business.
Haven A Boutique is just shy of three years old, but Rosemarie has over 30 years of retail experience behind her, covering roles from opening, management, training, sales, and more for companies like Banana Republic, Pottery Barn, Apple, and Skechers domestically and internationally. She even opened new locations for Aveda. You’d be right if you assumed that all this experience in logistics, management, and store layout helped Rosemarie launch her own boutique.
When Rosemarie opened Haven A Boutique, she did it in a very small town that only knew big box stores. Haven was the first boutique to open in their town in 20-30 years. It was a risk because she didn’t know her customer, but it didn’t take long to confirm that the risk was worth it.
“The neatest thing in the first month was having people actually come in and say, ‘You know what, this is the best thing. I’m so glad you did this. Thank you so much.’ So many thank yous and appreciation for bringing… what you would find at a Nordstrom or Anthropologie to town. People don’t have to drive 40-50 miles anymore if they needed an outfit. I would say it wasn’t so much a surprise but a good feeling, a welcoming thing where people were appreciative. That kind of just reaffirmed that I did the right thing.”
Although Rosemarie was a novice to being a business owner, she did have an experienced eye for business. What she saw prior to opening her store was a bunch of investors coming into town and restoring beautiful, old buildings. She saw other nice shops opening around the same time. She might’ve taken a risk, but it was an educated risk.
“When you walk into things with good intentions, great things happen. All you can do is get in there and give it your best… You can have all the experience in the world, but people might not embrace your concept,” she explained. “When people walked into the store they said ‘OMG, this isn’t Woodland!’ That, I think… the appeal, and the decor and the super welcoming location also helps.”
What I think also helped her was the courage to follow her gut. And some flexibility. As any successful business owner will tell you, being willing to try things, like varying social media strategies, and be flexible enough to change direction if something doesn’t work is critical to growth. Overall, though, I think the most important word that came up when talking social media with Rosemarie is: intention. She is purposeful in everything she does.
From the get-go, she started collecting emails and using social media to promote Haven. Initially, her Instagram and Facebook accounts featured stock photos from her vendors, but when she consulted with her friend (who happened to be a photographer and did social media), she was told:
“I know you want to do social media, but … your stock photos aren’t really representing who your business is. We need to do a photo shoot. We need to have stuff that’s more you. You need to be in the photoshoots. You need to represent.”
What Rosemarie heard was what any business owner would hear: “this is going to cost a lot of money!” Being a “Return On Investment” thinker, she considered her status as a new store finding its foothold, knowing she needed to be where her customers are, she went ahead.
“Investing in social media was the best thing I ever did.”
Doing photo shoots had immediate impact beyond sales. She was able to clarify the store’s brand, build relationships with her customers, and learn how they think.
“I made it a focus to use our customers as models because people connect to them. The biggest misconception when people walked into the boutique the first six months was that it was too high-end very expensive, and that we didn’t have specific sizes that would fit a 16-20. So I was like ‘Absolutely not. Come on in. This is great.’ Literally, we found that every 3-4 purchases were people who never thought they could shop at a boutique and that makes me so happy.”
Let me break down the monthly photoshoot for you as related to me by Rosemarie. In a small town market, photographers will go for around $100-$145/hr. Rosemarie can do her photoshoot in about 2 hours because she is very organized and doesn’t want to impose too much time on the customer. Outfits are chosen the day prior to the shoot and for her time, the customer/model receives a gift card and access to all the photos. Haven then gets about 12-14 finished photos of a human model to publish throughout the month at a rate of 3x per week.
Said month will also feature photos taken by a staff member. Even though these are done in-house, they’re still very organized about their approach. They “batch” their work by scheduling time each week for flatlays (featured on social media 2 days a week) and jewelry/accessory photos (featured 2 days a week). Having content ready to go eliminates the pressure in the moment you want to post. Heck, you can even schedule your posts ahead of time!
“You really have to be intentional with your posts because so many people look at your stuff – and some people may not comment, but they do [look at your stuff],” she said. “You have to think about every single photo as if it was going to be your best photo on the cover of the New York Times. Sometimes I think people post stuff to post stuff, but remember, whatever you put out there, it’s your brand. It’s who you are. It’s the perception people will have of Haven.”
I know. It sounds like a lot of photos, posts, and hashtags to manage—and it is. That’s why scheduling the time for a photo shoot and the time to take in-store photos is critical to creating original content regularly. And, if necessary, hiring professionals, like a photographer or a social media agency, who can do it more efficiently than you. Rosemarie has hired both. She believes that as an owner, you don’t have time for the minutiae. She believes it’s more cost effective to get an expert to handle the details while she focuses on the big picture of growth. Both Rosemarie and I had heard the same time-value lesson from different sources:
If you value your time at $100/hr and decide to handle your social media, which takes you 3 hours, you’ve spent $300 on social media. Even if you don’t literally pay yourself, that’s the value in your time lost. However, if you hire a social media professional who could do the same work at $125/hr in one hour, you just saved yourself three hours and $175. Totally worth it.
Rosemarie estimates that in a market like hers, you could allot for about $400-500 per month for a social media agency, depending on what you ask them to do, which could range from simple posts to managing SEO and email lists, and more. Because Rosemarie started collecting emails from the very beginning she now has a robust email list, which is utilized by the agency and serves as the main communication channel for the customers not on social media.
“You have to think about your customers. We see people from 18-80 [years old]. We’re all over the board so social media tends to hit the 20-something to probably 40-something. But 50 and above, a lot of people aren’t on social media. A lot of people don’t want to be on social media. So then we do an email – we send some photos, newer outfits, some events and things in it.”
They try to touch their customers in different ways so in addition to their social media sites, website, emails, and newsletter, they also have a rewards program.
“Most everybody has a cell phone and most people sign up for it so they’ll always get some kind of offer through their phone to bring them back in.”
Doesn’t it sound like a better and better idea to have someone handle the volume of work on this end? Rosemarie oversees the photos (sometimes selecting customer photos to repost) and sends them to her social media person and she takes it from there. But Rosemarie is clear in being intentional about who you hire, as well.
“People think ‘Oh the young kids’. Yes, but they’re young. They don’t have the experience you have. You might not have your digital social media experience, but you have marketing and real world experience. So if you, as a business owner, aren’t injecting that into them, they’re not going to learn. So I can get my girls all my tech stuff to do… but you have to remember what they don’t know. ”
You’re probably wondering if Rosemarie’s investment in marketing her business has paid off. Here’s how she measures her social media ROI:
“Engagement and word of mouth. People are talking about us, the models. It’s hard to figure out the sales part of it, but the energy and just the conversation around Haven in general because the photos comes up a lot.”
For example, the week we spoke, Haven sold four dresses from a photo that appeared in their social media. Four of the same dress! This brings up another important lesson that Rosemarie learned along the way.
“Sometimes you’re gonna sell out of an item that you haven’t posted yet. Post it. Why? Because you’re showcasing that you carried this amazing piece (and it was obviously amazing because it sold) and if you’re sold out, you might be able to get more, you may not, but at least you know that people loved it and that was a really good one… People need to know we carry that kind of stuff.”
A lot of likes that turn into foot traffic, purchases, or requests is not a bad way to gauge ROI, right? Engagement also helps Haven know what pieces or types of photos work and which don’t. They tried posting motivational quotes, but it didn’t work for them so they discontinued posting quotes and learned that team photos get a lot of attention. You just have to try out different things. If it doesn’t work, go on to the next idea.
“I’m constantly challenging the girls to think out of the box. What’s going on? Should we not carry this anymore? What other trends have you seen? What would you do if you were me? How would you run the store? I believe in constantly challenging yourself and your people are also your best influencers.”
Influencers. It’s a buzzword for sure, but Rosemarie is also intentional about finding influencers. They’re not just the young travelers and foodies who take pictures of their day. For business, Haven partners with key people in town. The owner of the biggest gym in town… she’s going to know a few hundred women. One of Rosemarie’s greatest friends owns a restaurant, which naturally means that she’s connected to a lot of people. Haven does photoshoots at different restaurants and coffee shops in town and has found that those owners are very supportive. Rosemarie advises to think of the Top 3 business people in town and try to connect with them. Even if they don’t partner with you for promotions, you can still learn from them.
I’d love to know what you think of all the social media tips and strategies. Did you learn something new? Let us know in the comments which tip you’re going to try first!
How to find Haven A Boutique:
414 First Street, Woodland, CA
Instagram: @HavenABoutique https://www.instagram.com/havenaboutique/
Facebook: @HavenABoutique https://www.facebook.com/havenaboutique