February is known as a month of love, and 32-year-old Keena Williams has been in a 15-year affair — but not with a man. Her beau’s name is So Excessive Boutique (along with its online retail store) and the success of their relationship lies in all that sparkles and shines, from dazzling bracelets to bright-hued broaches to sparkling hoops and studs.
“My inspiration stems from my obsession with accessories; They are the icing on the cake,” Williams says. “It was Rachel Zoe who said, ‘A dress is just a dress until you add the jewels,’ and that is my philosophy as well.”
From her days as a high school student selling accessories to trendy peers to opening her own boutique in Newark, N.J, Williams prides herself in filling a void in an area quite close to one of the world’s fashion capitals, but not often known as the hot spot for chic. She believes in investing in her hometown, providing consumer access and community-building revenue.
With Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week just around the corner, BlackEnterprise.com talked with Williams on how she got started, how she plans to carve a niche in the accessories market and why it’s a good idea to invest in local communities when starting a business.
The accessories market is a saturated one, especially with so many celebrities starting jewelry lines and accessories boutiques. How does So Excessive remain competitive?
We stay on the pulse of accessory trends and we educate our customers. With each purchase, we share how to care for their accessories, tips on wearing them and introduce them to products such as Lobe Wonder, which is a great one for women who wear heavy earrings. Our goal is to be a resource for our customers as well as a place to shop. We’ve also hosted events where customers can network, have cocktails and shop.
Why did you choose Newark, N.J. for your location?
I chose Newark because it’s my hometown, and I saw a void in the marketplace for an accessories boutique. Newark is going through a metamorphosis right now and there are some really great things going on within the city. I definitely wanted So Excessive to be a part of that.
What did it take to start the online store?
The online store was just as much work as opening a brick-and-mortar location. Picking a Website designer who understood my vision was very important, and researching sites I love to shop from was also part of the process. I also used friends as my focus group to make sure the online experience had the same feel as the boutique. In terms of overhead, I had to invest in Website design costs and monthly maintenance fees.
What five tips would you have for young women who want to go into the accessories retail business?
Great customer service is key. This is at the top of the list. No one wants to shop where the staff isn’t friendly.
Do your research. Just because you love it doesn’t mean there is a market for it.
Stay on top of the trends. You don’t have to subscribe to every trend, but you should always know what people are talking about and wearing.
Take and listen to feedback. Listening skills are key. It’s a good idea to ask customers for feedback and listen to their wants and needs so you can improve their experience.
Make sure you have a great support system. Starting a business can be an emotional roller coaster, and there will be plenty of times where you will need support or a shoulder to lean on.