Tucked right at the northeastern edge of the square in downtown Ozark sits a two-story house. But its bright turquoise door doesn’t lead to a living room or kitchen; it leads customers into the Torn Boutique.
The store is full of women’s clothing from jeans and skirts to vests and sweaters, formal dresses and shoes, including boots, sandals and heels. Then there’s the accessories like hats, backpacks, purses and wallets. Owner Carissa Greenlee says she spends between $8,000 and $17,000 each month on inventory. But when choosing and cycling through clothes, unique finds are just as important to Greenlee as keeping up with seasonal trends.
“The spring and holidays carry you through,” Greenlee says. “You don’t get the same paycheck every week. Usually the beginning of each season are good times.”
Greenlee didn’t hire any employees for the first six months. The balancing act between launching a boutique and being with her kids, she says, led her to hire two employees toward the end of Torn Boutique LLC’s first year. Now, she likes to keep five part-time employees at a time – eight is the most she has ever employed at once, in 2015.
Greenlee launched Torn Boutique with the help of a $40,000 startup loan from Assemblies of God Credit Unions. By the end of the first year of business, she says, that debt was paid off.
“I have a lot of great support in the area,” Greenlee says. “The first year was awesome.”
Women’s clothing stores aren’t rare in Ozark – the downtown square has about four others, including HuckaBella Boutique & Marketplace and Weezies Upscale Resale. Though competition is nearby, Greenlee says she has no plans to relocate the store – the foot traffic through the Ozark Square attracts valuable customers.
Greenlee keeps the store relevant by marketing with billboards – she’s had up to 12 at once – an email list of about 5,000 and a text database of 1,200. She uses the text database for sending out promotions and says it typically gives her the best results. Social media, Greenlee says, is still one of the cheapest and most effective advertising methods.
Greenlee also does pop-up shops, where she brings the clothes to customers’ houses for gatherings – at least 10 people in a group, usually PTAs, church groups and book clubs. She says these events become popular around Christmas, paralleling the store’s sales spikes.
“We’re always looking for innovations, especially with so many competitors in Ozark,” Greenlee says.
The busiest times of year for Torn are early fall, when school starts up again, and around the holidays. Summer, Greenlee says, is typically the slowest time of year for business.
In August, Greenlee started renting booths in the store’s upper level to vendors. There are eight booths, seven of which are filled with baby clothes, home decor and small gift items – things Torn doesn’t typically sell. Though Greenlee says she is still deciding whether to continue renting the space, it’s an idea designed to help Torn stand out from competitors.
Making the sale
Greenlee purchases from up to 20 vendors – about five of them are relationships from when the business started. Sarah’ndipity Designs and Dear John Denim are two of the biggest sellers – combined, their products make up about a third of Torn’s sales.
Greenlee also travels to Las Vegas and Dallas a few times a year to explore new options and trends to bring back to Ozark.
Sarah Gugliotta of Sarah’ndipity Designs says she’s been friends with Greenlee for years and, once Torn was up and running, they decided her handmade jewelry would help complement the store’s inventory.
“Torn is the first retail store to have my stuff,” Gugliotta says. “Last March, I started making hand-cut leather earrings. The Market, in Springfield, also carries those and so does Home Girls in Jacksonville, Illinois.”
But Torn is the biggest buyer of Gugliotta’s jewelry. Greenlee says her hand-cut leather earrings are big sellers.
Gugliotta says The Market and Home Girls have each reordered two or three times. About half of the jewelry she makes for Sarah’ndipity Designs goes to Torn.
“I wouldn’t have the customer base I have now if it hadn’t been for Carissa’s support,” Gugliotta says. “I’m so appreciative of her giving my stuff a chance. She loves to support local as much as she can.”
Becky Worthy, a Torn employee of four years, says customers feel familiar with Torn, in part because of the store’s location.
“The atmosphere is so inviting, with where the house is located,” she says. “It’s not overwhelming when you get here.”
Worthy says running Torn out of a house instead of a traditional store helps the business stand out. Greenlee says the inventory does, too. The most common customers are 20-40 years old, but she says shoppers will range from high schoolers to great-grandmothers.
The benefit is growing, but not at a good clip.
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