by Vanessa Machir
In the midst of a challenging 2020, a Florida boutique transitions to online
For many kids, summer vacation means lazy days. Michelle DiMarco, however, spent her childhood breaks learning how to be a boss. “I grew up seeing how a small business operates,” she says of her family’s lawn-mowing repair and retail company. “My mom would pick us up and we would go to the store. We never really went away to camp.”
After college, DiMarco got her start in retail working for companies like Wet Seal and Liz Claiborne, but she envisioned a more independent future. “I could never see myself working for anyone else, in part because of my family background,” she says.
She enrolled in FIT’s Creative Enterprise Ownership program in 2008 and opened her Fort Lauderdale boutique, Lilac And Lilies, in 2009. Her merchandise reflects her attention to quality and trends without sacrificing affordability; nearly 90 percent of her items retail for under $100. She carries both established brands and Etsy finds, like necklaces made out of vintage Chanel buttons.
DiMarco’s original plan was to concentrate on e-commerce sales, but she launched her brick-and-mortar location and website simultaneously. “What took a lot of my time and energy was the storefront,” she says. “I ended up turning the website into a blog featuring inspiring women, and then we kept on growing the store.”
During the COVID-19 lockdown, however, “I had time to take a step back and assess the direction I wanted to go in,” DiMarco says. “The universe was telling me to focus on e-commerce … and I was ready to do it.”
She converted her storefront into an appointment-only showroom and is expanding her website to reach a larger market. Previously, she featured about 60 percent of products on her site, and the majority of sales came from her storefront. Now she’s working with a small team to transition her full inventory online while also overseeing photoshoots, marketing, and public relations.
Part of a successful transition is improved inventory management and more compressed scheduling. Previously, she’d shoot product and then have descriptive copy written. “By the time an item was ready [for online listing], I had already sold three to four of that item in the storefront.” But now, she ensures that the description is written in advance so that the listing can go online the day an item arrives.
To support sales, she’s recently introduced a rewards program where customers receive redeemable points for shopping or even sharing purchases on Facebook. Another popular addition is “Wine-Down Wednesday” on Instagram and Facebook Live. DiMarco and her manager feature different products and promotions (while drinking wine, of course), and offer 20 percent off purchases for 24 hours.
She’s also launching an affiliate program. Applicants, once approved, get commission on the products they sell. “We don’t necessarily have to ship them products. They can take images from our website or we can send them a Dropbox link of items to feature during that week.”
“It’s crazy, like opening up another business,” DiMarco says of her e-commerce transition. But she always keeps lessons learned from her family’s business in mind. “The grind is very real, but you have to stay super focused and have a can-do attitude.”