by Kalen Ruiz | Featured Contributor
For my birthday back in March, my parents gave me a very generous check with the following instructions: “Do something just for you. Not the store, not the house, not for bills, just for you.” I, of course burst in to tears. Not just because of their overwhelming generosity, but because it has been a VERY long time since I have been able to afford a splurge (or a haircut). After much deliberation and budgeting, I decided to go to LA for a long weekend and hit the Rose Bowl Flea Market and the infamous Decades on Melrose Ave. Ok, so yes, my trip DID include vintage shopping, but I swore it would be shopping JUST for me, not for the store. Vintage is still my passion, it’s what makes me happy, and I’m fortunate that I have been able to also make it my business. It was a fabulous weekend filled with everything from digging through $10 racks of vintage dresses to carefully studying the construction of vintage Christian Lacroix Haute Couture. But beyond the shopping, I learned how valuable it is to get out of your bubble, get out of town and see what’s going on in the world.
Regardless of the industry you are in, networking is one of the most valuable tools in your shed. It promotes your business, it connects you with problem-solvers, it puts you in touch with mentors, and it provides an opportunity to discuss business issues that I promise you are not the only one facing. And the mere thought of it makes my eye all twitchy. I despise it. My worst nightmare would be to put me in the middle of a room where I know no one and be forced to make conversation with people; even if there were a cocktail in my hand. And yes, I’ve tried. In the corporate world, conferences, happy hours, PR events happen all the time. I had enough trouble making small talk to the VPs at my own company, let alone chatting up some magazine editor about the latest issue of Southern Living.
I know, it seems odd for a boutique owner to have such a fear of conversation with strangers when I have them coming in my door every day (Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise). But, my shop is like my home, and I’m a fantastic hostess. It’s when I get out of that comfort zone that I freeze up. What I’ve discovered on my road trips is that it is much easier to engage in conversation with others when it’s on a more personal level. People love to talk about their business, their shops, and their stories. For retailers especially, we are all pretty much in the same boat; and it’s comforting to share and to hear about how we all got to where we are. For many businesses, referrals are one of the top ways to get new customers. I can’t afford NOT to make these connections wherever I go. Lucky for me, I’m a way better shopper than I am a networker. So, the next time you are out and about, make a point to check out some of the businesses that are doing what you do. Make a connection, get a business card, find them on LinkedIn. See? Wasn’t that easy? Now, where is my cocktail?
Kalen Ruiz – Vintage Treasure Hunter, Bess & Evie’s Vintage – Fort Worth, Texas
Kalen Ruiz is a native Texan who discovered the exciting world of vintage clothing during her days as a Fashion Merchandising Major at Texas Christian University. Flea markets, thrift stores, estate sales, and the antique/junk/vintage shop across the street from campus became part of her regular rotation of destinations on the never-ending hunt for vintage treasures. Her trips back home to El Paso would inevitably consist of digging through closets at her parents’ and grandparents’ homes to see what might be found there. Cowboy boots of every color and skin from her dad’s days at the Tony Lama Boot Factory were sadly not in her size, but the array of western belts were quickly snatched up and taken back to Fort Worth. Her grandma Evie’s closets produced a sea of tulle and taffeta that were her aunt’s prom dresses from the 1960s and a collection of coats that sadly Grandma was not ready to part with yet. Grandma Bess, being Scottish had countless handkerchiefs and wool tartans made in to dresses and skirts to add to the treasury. After a career in buying, merchandising, E-commerce and operations with a national home furnishings retailer, Kalen pursued her dream and opened Bess & Evie’s Vintage, a vintage clothing boutique in Fort Worth, Texas in May 2010. Her favorite part of the job is still the thrill of the hunt, but also loves helping people find their own treasures in her boutique.