HOPEWELL TOWNSHIP - Staying on top of ever-changing fashion trends can be difficult for one's personal wardrobe, let alone for a diverse group of customers with different tastes and flairs.
It is a constant part of the job for Kimberly Rose, who with her husband, John, owns the Hope Chest, a 3,300-square-foot women's boutique on Shiloh Pike in Hopewell Township.
Research, instincts and knowledge of customers' preferences all take away some of the guesswork, but there is always some level of uncertainty.
"Fashion's a chance, especially in fashion, because fashions change," said Rose, 48, of Hopewell Township. "I do research what the trends are. ... And we may bring part of the trend into the area. You also get to know your customers and what they want and you mix that with what's new."
Rose opened the Hope Chest 10 years ago in a 400-square-foot store at Dutch Neck Village. Shortly after, she started another business - the Holly Hut, which focused on home decor-type products.
Eventually, she said, the women's boutique concept of the Hope Chest took over the other business.
In September, the Hope Chest expanded to its current, larger location.
The retail clothing business can be tough, with plenty of competition from major chain stores and revenue often tied to discretionary spending habits.
Women's clothing stores alone represent a $42 billion industry, according to research firm IBISWorld. In New Jersey, there were more than 1,300 women's clothing stores with an annual payroll exceeding $236 million in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's County Business Patterns data.
Rose, whose background was in retail management before starting the business, said there are several ways to compete with chain stores. Customer service. Often changing displays and merchandise. Varying prices. And hosting special events, from girls' nights out to theme parties.
"Being a small business, we have a lot of competition from big-box stores, so right away we can't compete with their pricing. We're not on the same level. So we try to create an experience for them they wouldn't get in a larger store. We do it with visual displays. Basically we reinvent ourselves every quarter, with new window, new displays, new merchandise even," she said.
The boutique carries items such as Vera Bradley handbags and Alex and Ani jewelry, as well as clothing lines such as Tribal.
Rose said the merchandise changes often, and special events are continually part of the business plan.
"We never want to settle. It constantly has to change and constantly be something new," he said. "We do a lot of events. We have Vera Bradley's daughter here three times. … We like to make everything fun."
Contact Brian Ianieri:
The Hope Chest
Location: 597 Shiloh Pike, Hopewell Township (Bridgeton mailing address)
Owners: Kimberly and John Rose,
of Hopewell Township