For those who think small, local retailers don’t stand a chance in a digital age dominated by giants like Amazon and Walmart, meet Cristina Wilson Hudlin and Michelle Wilson Bien.
Hailing from Petaluma, Sonoma State graduates and twin sisters as well as mothers, the two have been operating their Ooh La Luxe womenswear store since 2008, first in a small space in Petaluma, then expanding into Healdsburg. and Santa Rosa.
Like other physical retailers, Ooh La Luxe has seen a shift in the buying habits of its customers. But the sisters were prepared. They upgraded their website about six years ago to make digital shopping easier and have a 5,000 square foot warehouse that houses inventory.
The result has been that Ooh La Luxe has been able to increase its revenue, doubling its sales in recent years, said Michelle Wilson Bien. The company generates a few million dollars in sales per year, and online sales have quadrupled during the pandemic, she said.
âWithout the website, we would have had a rough time,â said Wilson Bien, who noted that digital and in-person sales are roughly equal for their business. They started their business with around $ 6,000 after selling their small coffee business that they had started while in college and were able to self-finance their growth while promoting their original loft from. 400 square feet in Petaluma.
As the holiday season has shifted into high gear this week, the success of the sisters is a reminder that shopping habits are varied and that small businesses can compete with large businesses by focusing on the agility and personal interaction. This touch is something Ooh La Luxe enjoys even though she grew up employing around 20 workers.
A key breakup occurred in 2017 when a contestant for the TV show “The Bachelor” wore a sweater showcased at Ooh La Luxe and posted it over 2 million followers on Instagram.
âWe used to place 100 orders per day on our website. And to give you an example of the power she hadâ¦ we got a thousand orders, âsaid Wilson Bien. The store also garnered around 50,000 Instagram followers.
They were preparing all last week for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber ââMonday and were positive about the opportunities ahead.
They admitted that it was helpful to be able to be in both sales camps for a demographic made up mostly of millennial buyers, but also Gen X customers and Baby Boomers.
âThe website is great because you can make a lot of money, you can ship to anywhere, and everyone can know you. But there is nothing quite like helping customers and being in the store. I think that’s kind of our basis for being successful with a business, âsaid Wilson Bien.
Their success garnered attention and they joined Sonoma State’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program as mentors, which helps students who eventually want to run their own businesses.
âWhen I got the chance to meet them and hear their story and what they’ve accomplished, I thought it was phenomenal,â Chris Stewart, co-founder of Pocket Radar Inc. told Santa Rosa. Stewart helped run the university’s entrepreneurial program.
“We’ve done a lot of things with them as mentors and bringing in interns and having people follow them.” said Stewart. “I think they have been phenomenal in the way they have adapted to the changing environment.”
The sisters also realize that giving back to the community is also crucial. For Small Business Saturday, they welcomed three local vendors to their stores to help other women-owned businesses reach more customers: Floral Luxe, a local florist; Glowworm, which produces handmade soaps; and Hometown Collective, which makes candles.
âIt started when I had kids and looked at the products we had at home and there was a lot of bad stuff in it,â said Samantha Costello, who founded Glowworm ago. six years after the birth of her first child. “I have become more aware of the footprint we make on our land, and I want that impact to be positive.”
Costello grew up in Mexico City and 20 years ago, as a teenager, he moved to Sonoma County, attending Montgomery High School in Santa Rosa. She sources her ingredients locally and sells her produce at local festivals and has just developed her website at glowwormbeauty.com.
For the sisters, Saturday’s effort was to pay it forward as they wished they had more mentors to count on when they started.
âWe kind of thought this year about bringing in other local businesses on Small Business Saturdays as part of our contribution to the community. It’s also to support these other businesses that are members of the community and maybe people will do their holiday shopping with them instead of going like a big box (retailer), âsaid Wilson Bien.
You can reach editor Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or [email protected] On Twitter @BillSwindell.