This week on Fashion Profiles we are featuring Jessica Kunen, who works as an Assistant Buyer for Koze boutique in Tiburon, CA. As we will learn, working at a small town boutique is not unlike working for a large department store, but has it’s own unique intricacies that truly put the customer first. For those of you looking to start your own store, Jessica’s sound advice may be just the ticket to your success!
Tell us a little about your role as an Assistant Buyer at Koze.
My role as an assistant buyer at Koze is very specific. This is a new position for me on top of Merchandising & Styling, which have been my main focus points for the past 8 years. We currently attend LA Market & Cala in San Francisco a few times a year to buy for Resort, Spring, Summer, Fall & Holiday. I am currently responsible for all of the denim that comes into our store as well as a dress line, BUTTER by Nadia, out of Brooklyn, NY that consists of amazing jersey wrap dresses & collection pieces all at ONE SIZE. I don’t like to categorize women by sizes so this line helps women to feel beautiful at any shape, height or size. As a denim buyer I work closely with the owner to really make sure that each month the right denim is being paired with each collection from our clothing vendors. This is all so important to make sure the cuts, washes & styles match up and are contemporary, but not too trendy. I like to stick to basics with a twist. I am very particular when it comes to denim myself, so I try on everything at market. I want to know how the sizing runs, how they stretch and feel on the body; there is nothing more satisfying than a pair of jeans that can positively transform the way you feel.
What kind of experience did you have as a Buyer before taking on this role?
I have been working in retail for about 12 years and I love it. I attended FIDM for Merchandise Marketing Management & have always been more fascinated by the small boutique side of retail rather than corporate. I have worked at a few different boutiques where my input/suggestions were always appreciated & asked for, but I am now finally getting the hands on experience, at Koze, of going to Market and buying on a much larger scale. There is something very rewarding about being invested in a line that you have specifically bought for your target customer & seeing it come together through creative merchandising.
What is the aesthetic of Koze, and how as a buyer do you learn to put the customer’s tastes before your own?
Our goal is to help our customer feel fabulous & beautiful while also being comfortable, hence the name Koze. We buy for a lifestyle! Sometimes I can be a little eclectic or edgy with my own fashion, so I try to take a step back and say, “how would our customer really wear this style/trend or incorporate it in their everyday life?”
How do you continue to attract new customers and inspire old ones?
For our longtime customers I feel it is all about consistency, newness and great customer service. We have an incredibly loyal customer base that we send emails & promotions to once a month. I am always going above & beyond for our customers, for without them we would not be in business. As for new customers at Koze, we are always involving ourselves in the community with events, fundraisers & fashion shows for schools and charities. We are kind of off the beaten path in Tiburon, CA (a destination town) so we also rely on tourism and creating new relationships with customers all over the country.
How do you find new brands to carry in the store?
I’m always reading magazines, searching the internet & constantly asking my customers what their favorite brands are. From there we will take notes and set appointments at market to view the lines. We also are looking for consistency & credibility with new lines, ie: if they ship on time or if the collection appears & fits as they were sampled. AG is a new denim line for us & I am incredibly excited about them. They have a huge following & not a lot of boutiques near us carry them so it was a great opportunity for us to try something new without a huge risk.
What kind of advantages or disadvantages are there as a small boutique going to market?
Advantages would be that we make for a pretty quick appointment; we don’t like to waste time and usually know what we are looking for right away. A disadvantage would be that we are not a large corporate retailer buying in bulk so for some vendors we are not their first priority, so more often than not we have to stay on top of vendors and making sure that they ship our orders on time & complete.
What is your favorite part about your job?
Seeing a plan from buying to merchandising come to life in the store. As my boss would say, “I love it when a plan comes together!” It’s incredible rewarding when our customers feel comfortable & fabulous in our clothes.
What is the best advice you would give someone looking to open or be a buyer for their own boutique?
Know your customer!!! To know whom you’re buying for is key, you can’t always buy what you like and would wear. Listen to your customer & put yourself in their shoes, how they would shop your at store. One of my favorite quotes is, “To be simple is to be great” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?
My ultimate dream is to own my own boutique! I’m always taking notes and constantly learning from everyone around me, especially my boss who is my biggest mentor. She built her business from the ground-up, now 7 years later I can only hope to one day manifest the same success for myself!