Apricot Lane Boutique is a locally-owned and operated women’s clothing store in Campustown. CCP spoke with new owner Donna Walthall (center) and her daughters who manage the store, Erin Brodbeck (left) and Lindsey Murphy (right).
What got you interested in buying and running Apricot Lane?
Donna: We’ve been asked that a lot. Going from owning a funeral home (Sunset Funeral Home) to owning a women’s boutique?! Apricot Lane kept popping up on my Facebook feed earlier this year, saying that this franchise was for sale, so I thought, “That’d be pretty cool!” I was very excited about it. So I said, “Girls, if I do this, you’ve got to do it with me! Are we in?” And so, of course, they were all in with it, so that’s how we got started.
What has the learning curve been like, learning to run a retail business?
Donna: Well, we run the funeral home so there is a little retail there, but this is totally different from anything we’ve done before. I think the most challenging thing for me is learning the inventory, so knowing when to get rid of one season and go into the next season and how to balance our orders.
Erin: And I think it was hard for us too because when we first opened, the student population wasn’t here, so trying to figure out what the right balance is for the people that are here and coming in the summer versus the students who come back during the school year, because it’s a completely different clientele.
Why is Apricot Lane’s location in Campustown important to you?
Lindsey: I feel like the store is geared more towards younger customers. We are trying to widen our customer base, because our idea is to have the mother and daughter come in here and shop and they both find something. We try to stay on-trend, and that tends to stay with the younger population, so right now the students are our heart and soul.
Donna: It’s fun down here! The challenge is getting townies to come in. We want to make the shopping experience great enough that they want to come to Campustown and see us.
Erin: Since our other business is in Downtown, Apricot’s location on Green Street gives us a different way to connect to our local community.
What kinds of styles have you loved having in the shop lately and how do you select those pieces?
Donna: That is the most fun part of the job! We flew out in June to California to the Fashion District in Downtown LA and hand-selected all of our merchandise.
We’re planning on going twice a year to shows to feel the material and see the quality of the potential pieces in person.
Erin: We also benefit from a buying team in LA. Once a week, the team visits the vendors, takes pictures of what’s doing really well and sends those to us which has been a great support.
What’s it like running a business with your family?
Donna: For me, it’s awesome because they’re my girls. We each have an area that we tag as our own so it’s great. We’re really close. I love working with my girls. Lindsey is in charge of social media, which she’s really great with. Erin is in charge of the buying and ordering and keeping track of what we need, and I keep track of the day-to-day operations.
Lindsey: When we were all in college and high school together, we would go shopping together, and now we get to do it for a store!
Erin: And then we each have daughters too, and they’re our jewelry girls, so they love coming into the store with us.
What new focus can customers expect at Apricot Lane this year?
Erin: I’m excited for growth, to see a year from now how much we’ve learned and getting more connected in the community!
Lindsey: I’m excited for Apricot’s Fashion Parties. At the other business, I work in marketing, so I’m excited to translate those skills to this retail space. I’m looking forward to developing regular customers and recognize them when they come in. I’m a very social, outgoing person, so that’s what excites me the most!
Donna: We want to be the go-to boutique. When people think of a boutique, we want Apricot Lane to be the first in their mind!
Finally, how has your membership with Champaign Center Partnership benefited your business?
Donna: We participated in 13 Thursdays promotion this past summer and that was great for us. CCP has been very supportive of both this business and Sunset Funeral, which is also a member business. They host great events for advertising and networking, and round tables with community businesses.
By Melinda Sevilla, Contributing Writer