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TLV Note: This week is National Business Women’s Week, and we’re celebrating on the blog by profiling a few of our favorite local women in business. From a top blogger, to a fearless boutique owner, and a duo revolutionizing education, these talented, hardworking women are sure to inspire and motivate your inner boss lady. Next up? Audrey Aguilar, owner of one of Fairfield County’s newest boutiques, Lily shoes & accessories.
Consider Lily to be Audrey Aguilar’s second act. After working in finance and consulting, and raising her two children, Lily, 11, and Fred, 19, Aguilar decided it was time to go off in an entirely new direction, and pursue a deep-seated dream of opening her own boutique. Lily (named after her daughter), opened its doors in September and has already become a popular destination for fashionable women looking for of-the-moment shoes and accessories from top contemporary designers.
Below, we talk to Audrey about the process of opening Lily, what it’s like to buy shoes for a living, and how an MBA and a background in finance have been immensely helpful in her fashion-forward business.
What made you decide to open Lily?
I have always wanted to have my own business, and I have always loved fashion. This year I turned 50, I sent my first child to college and I realized that there is no time like the present. A beautiful location became available and I jumped on it. It felt like all the stars were in alignment.
What gap in the local market does the store fill?
I have been told by many of my local customers that there hasn’t been a shoe store in Old Greenwich in many many years. Personally, I was having a hard time finding high quality shoes that weren’t really expensive. So I felt that the area could use a shoe and accessory shop that sells things that are beautiful and accessible.
How long did it take for the store to go from the planning stages to opening day? What went into bringing it to fruition?
Once I had decided that opening a shoe store was what I wanted to do, about a year ago, I started going to trade shows and learning about brands, styles and pricing. When I got the lease on my current location in May, things went into high gear. Buying for fall usually takes place in January/February, but I did it in May and June. Construction on the space started in June and was completed in early September, so it was a very quick turn-around. Opening a shop is all about details that you never think about as a consumer. How many shelves and displays do we need? Where do you get a point-of-sale system? How do you best light the space to show off the merchandise? How do you store the inventory? It was hard work, but it really is so much fun.
You previously worked as a consultant, and have an MBA from New York University. Has that helped you now as a business owner?
My background in finance and consulting was critical to me being able to do this. You can’t start a business without doing financial projections and understanding how your financial decisions will affect your profitability. While I didn’t really enjoy what I did when I was working as an accountant, a banker or a management consultant, I am so glad today that I have the benefit of that experience.
How do you determine what designers and styles to carry in the store?
When I go to the various trade shows, I can immediately sense which brands might work and which won’t. I have lived in Riverside for 16 years and I know what my friends and the women I see around town wear. My goal is to offer my customers shoes that are fashionable, practical, and reasonably priced. With that criteria, the list of brands to carry just falls into place.
Is there an overall lifestyle or customer the selection skews towards?
My customers are fashionable, active and very busy. I hope to offer them styles that they will want to wear every day when they are with their children, or going to lunch with friends or doing the million and one things we all do here every day.
What’s the buying process for shoes like?
Buying for the store is a lot of fun. I go to trade shows in New York, as well as showrooms for individual brands, several times a year. I browse their selections, get advice from the sales reps, and then whittle down my selections based on everything I have seen. It’s almost like putting a puzzle together, making sure that I have all the various pieces to make a complete collection that is varied enough to be interesting but still within the parameters of what I think my customers will want to buy.
How has the response been to the store so far?
We have gotten a lot of great feedback. We feel so lucky. But we can always be better! So all feedback, positive and negative, is welcome.
You named the store after your 11-year-old daughter, and you also have a 19-year-old son, Fred. What has been their reaction to watching you open your business?
They have both been very supportive and helpful, even working in the shop this summer when I was trying to get it all set up. I think they are surprised that I really did it. But they are proud too.
What sorts of values or lessons do you hope that watching you run the store will instill in them?
I hope both my children see that anything is possible if you want it and you are willing to work for it. I hope they learn not to be afraid to try and to risk failure. Opening a business is fraught with dangers, but if I hadn’t done this, I would always have had regrets. You only get one life. Sometimes you have to take a scary leap to get what you think you want out of life.
What’s been your biggest learning experience thus far as an entrepreneur?
One person can’t do everything. I started this alone, and I was able to do a lot, but I am so glad that I now have a team of 4 wonderful women to rely on and to bounce ideas off. I guess another lesson is that you really have to be careful about who you hire. If I didn’t have complete confidence in my team, I would be an exhausted, nervous wreck, and that is absolutely not the point of doing this!
What advice do you have for other women who dream of owning their own business one day?
Take an economics class and an accounting class. They aren’t the most exciting classes, but they are critical to being in business. Accounting is as important as reading when you have a business.
What’s your favorite pair of shoes in your own closet?
That’s a hard one! I have “purchased” so many new shoes this fall. Being in the store all day has proved to be too tempting. My favorite is always the last one I have purchased. I guess I am fickle! Maybe that’s why I love fashion so much – there is aways something new!
The store is located at 250 Sound Beach Avenue Old Greenwich, CT 06870