When retailers went into a six-week lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic last spring, Audacious Boutique owner Kelly Sigg worried she’d lose her business.
But Sigg stuck it out, thanks in part to the store’s social media presence, and is now expanding.
The store opens its doors today at a much larger venue, 19 S. Jefferson Ave.
Today’s opening is part of a 10-year journey that has included three locations in Iola and, for about three years, a second store in Pittsburg, as well as development of a new website for online shopping.
It’s been a trial-and-error learning adventure, Sigg said.
The past year has been perhaps the biggest challenge of all, but also brought about some of the store’s biggest growth.
“When COVID hit, that was the scariest time. I didn’t see any way it would be possible for us to survive,” Sigg said.
Sigg and her staff, led by store manager Toni Manbeck, turned to social media for solutions. Twice a month, they live-streamed a sales event. Staff displayed items and talked about fabric, cut, sizes and prices.
In one video, employee Lexie Vega models a dress. She holds the fabric close to the camera to show its tiny pastel flowers and the ruched sleeves and bodice.
“It has such pretty colors and I love this green. It has these puffy sleeves and cinches in on the wrist. That’s so cute.”
“Love the trendy square neckline, too,” Manbeck adds.
After the livestream sales event, staff collect and ship orders, or arrange for customers to pick up products.
They do a similar livestream video, Tuesdays @ 10, at 10 a.m. every Tuesday to review new arrivals.
The videos were vital to the store’s success through the pandemic, helping them keep in contact with customers, who could continue shopping even when most businesses were closed.
“We got online every day and came up with something new,” Sigg said. “I think it worked because everyone was home at that time, and we were relatable. We got the sweetest notes and cards from customers.”
Before the pandemic, the staff might have shipped 10 or so items a week. Now, they sell at least that many online orders every day. Sigg estimates about 30% of her business comes from online sales.
They plan to continue their online efforts, including the livestream sales events, and will launch a new eCommerce website in mid-February.
SIGG said she never expected to become a fashionista.
She had an eye for interior design, but most of her adult life was focused on family. She and her husband raised four children.
“I think I had expensive tastes, but not the budget,” she joked. “With four kids, there wasn’t money for fashion.”
Her daughter opened a store in McPherson, selling trendy purses, wallets and accessories. She added a line of “blingy T-shirts,” and Sigg promoted the shirts to her friends and family in the Iola area.
Soon, the designer noticed a significant increase in sales from Iola, Humboldt and Chanute. She asked Sigg to start selling, and eventually, Sigg’s friends encouraged her to open a store.
Audacious Boutique first opened in 2011 at 309 W. Lincoln St., now the site of The Protein Place.
After a couple of years, they moved to 23 E. Madison Ave., in the historic and charming building that was once the Iola State Bank.
Those first few years, Sigg continued to work at Se-Kan Asphalt. She enjoyed the work, and it offered stability and benefits. Before long, though, her store became successful enough for Sigg to leave her job and focus all her efforts on the business.
She hired Manbeck to serve as her store manager. Manbeck ran a second location in Pittsburg for a few years before returning to the Iola store.
WHILE Audacious thrived, other neighboring businesses soon shuttered, including Town & Country Western Wear, McGinty-Whitworth’s, Party Girls, and Sophisticated Rose.
As those businesses closed, Audacious began to fill the void by taking on new product lines.
They added a tuxedo rental business, which surprised Sigg by its demand.
Before long, Audacious became an overstuffed maze of inventory.
Sigg weighed her options. She considered renting a second location for the tuxedo business.
She considered buying the building vacated last summer by Sophisticated Rose at 19 S. Jefferson, but decided the responsibility too great.
When Job Springer bought the building instead, he offered part of it as a rental.
Sigg had reservations about the building’s aesthetics. Because she loved the charm and history of her current site, she gave Springer an impossibly long list of demands to renovate the new location, thinking it would be a deal-breaker.
Instead, Springer and Sigg ended up compromising on the changes.
The result gives off a certain “vintage-meets-boho-meets-industrial” vibe.
A tufted blue velvet settee and pink velvet bench rest against plaster-and-brick walls, topped by a golden pressed tin ceiling. Shelves — some rustic, some industrial — were built locally. Staff visited local antique and collectible stores to pick up tables and decor.
The building offers a much larger location, allowing merchandise to be better displayed and divided into two sections. Clothing products are offered on the south side, with gift items and tuxedo rentals on the north half.
Sigg will offer more gift items than before, particularly a baby gift section and a men’s gift section. She’s also adding expanded sizes in jeans, to see if there is a demand for plus-sized clothing.
The pandemic has made it difficult to attend clothing markets, which allow her to see and feel clothing to determine if it would be a good fit for her store. The events also allow her to network with sellers from across the country, from shops her size to major department stores. She hopes to return to a sales event in Atlanta soon.
“You learn trends. You learn fit. And just because it’s trendy doesn’t mean it will sell in Iola,” she said. “This business has been the ‘School of Hard Knocks’ and trial-and-error. You make mistakes, but that’s how you learn.”
She also gives a lot of credit to her staff, particularly Manbeck, and the young women who know how to work social media to find the store’s online niche.
Sigg said her theory is: “Do what you do best, and hire the rest.”