Here are some of our latest press releases.Apricot Lane Settles Into Plum Location
It's true in real estate and it's true in retail: location matters. For small retail business owners, it can mean the difference between success and failure. I've met many shop owners who had a great idea and great products, but because their shop was in an out-of-the-way place, customers never found them and they were forced to close.
That likely won't happen to Surprise residents Aaron and Belinda Alvarado, who recently moved into one of the hottest up-and-coming locations in the Valley - Westgate City Center. With a constant stream of high-profile activities and the busy 20-screen AMC Theatres just steps away, traffic won't be a problem for their shop, Apricot Lane.
When I visited their boutique last Friday, two big activities were under way outside their front door - the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour and an appearance by American Idol finalist Jordin Sparks.
It was a thrilling, and busy, time for the shop, which opened at the end of April. "That's why we wanted to be here at Westgate, because of all the events," Aaron said. "It's exciting."
This is the first Arizona location for Apricot Lane, which is a national franchise with stores in nearly 20 other states. The boutique carries trendy, name-brand clothing, jewelry, handbags, shoes and some home décor and gift items.
Some of the clothing labels include premium denim brands such as Lucky, LTB and Paper Denim & Cloth. A pair of Rock Revival jeans with an embroidered, elongated back pocket ($209) is just one of the finds. To go with those jeans are Free People bohemian-look dresses and tops, including a gray tunic embroidered with red accents and a shell-and-beaded rope belt ($148).
Along with the popular labels, the shop has brought in some unique styles, such as handmade embroidered and beaded slipper shoes from India ($45).
Once you get past the clothes, a table full of jewelry - helpfully organized by color - will keep any jewelry-fiend busy. Chunky bangles, shell necklaces and charm bracelets are big right now, as is the crystal-studded crown necklace ($18).
Handbag collectors will love the wall full of purses, with styles ranging from casual, floral-print tote bags to a handmade Italian leather bag studded with Swarovski crystals ($398). Other popular summer bags are a Marc Chantal buttery-yellow leather bag with metal accents ($69) and a colorful patchwork leather purse by Lucky ($138).
If you can make it past the accessories, the shop also carries home décor and a collection of Letters scented bath items, which were inspired by 1940s love letters found in an attic. Candles include Tyler soy-based candles in distinctive leopard-print packaging.
While restaurants have dominated the first phase of Westgate openings, several retail stores are due to join Apricot Lane in the next few weeks, including Guess, Quiksilver, a McFarlane collectibles store and Coronado Tobacco, says Jeffrey Hecht, a Westgate spokesman. He added that additional retail deals are in the works and will likely be announced in the near future.
Aaron expects that with the huge Super Bowl activities slated to hit in February 2008, business owners are scurrying for space. "Everybody is trying to get in before Super Bowl."
Arizona native Angela Rabago-Mussi is a freelance writer who lives in Glendale. She loves to shop and can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
Country Clutter Chain Adopts a Second Name: Apricot Lane
Executives at Country Visions - the parent company of the Country Clutter franchise chain that tenants outlet and full-price retail centers - got a jolt in 2003 from an unexpected source: a potential landlord.
The shock came when the owner of an upscale, conventional retail property in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip rejected the idea of leasing store space for a Country Clutter unit, explaining that the chain's name just didn't fit with the mall's tony image.
While a tad insulting, the developer's decision was a wake-up call for the "country" themed gift store chain that operates 60 units in 26 states in outlet and non-outlet projects.
But even before that, there had been internal discussion as to whether the Country Clutter name was a bit dowdy, given that the popularity of the country-style interior design theme may have peaked.
One important reason for a possible name change: The chain's merchandise mix has been evolving. "Over the years, Country Clutter's product mix broadened into many categories that really didn't fit the 'country' theme, such as Beanie Babies, Italian charms, jewelry and fashion accessories, " says Ken Petersen, the founder and CEO of the Vacaville, California based chain. Petersen owns one-third of the privately held chain, as do the retailer's president, Scott Jacobs, and its COO, Tom Brady. There were also cultural considerations, says Peteren. "A movement to remove clutter from your life has been publicized on the cover of magazines, the subject of talk shows and the gift industry trends are suggesting that our customer wants to 'unclutter' their lives and that 'dustibles' are out."
After sifting through thousands of names, company executives settled on a new name: Apricot Lane. "It was a tough decision for us, because we were pretty attached to the Country Clutter name," says Petersen. "It was an important move for us."
But it's up to franchisees to decide whether to name their stores Country Clutter or Apricot Lane, depending on what works best for their merchandise taste and the demographic market they live in.
For example, while many new and exisiting franchisees are making the name change to Apricot Lane, stores in such states as Pennsylvania and Tennessee - where the country trend thrives - are holding fast to the chain's original name, Country Clutter.
Why Apricot Lane?
"Apricot Lane gives a good first impression and evokes positive associations with the brand," says Petersen. "Apricot Lane was selected because it's unique, inviting, draws interest, solicits curiosity, has a boutique feeling and is more contemporary. It's non-restirictive in terms of what kind of merchandise a store can carry, has an upscale, classy feel, and is at the top of the alphabet."
Besides dreaming up a new name, Country Visions has introduced a new store design, a new merchandise plan and better margin opportunities.
"These changes allow current stores to capture a larger market within their respective area by expanding past the country themes to begin carrying a broader mix," says Petersen. "It also attracts more prospects interested in opening an Apricot Lane. In addition, these changes helped to open the door to gift-store conversions that previously were stalled due to the existing retailer's resistance to become a 'country' store."
The new name, the updated store design and other enhancements were introduced at the company's franchisee convention in Atlanta in January, says Petersen, and were all well received.
The chain's new store design features a complete custom fixture program developed and sourced in China, including a revamped cash wrap, jewelry cases, wall units, nesting tables, pedestals and accessory displays.
The meeting also detailed the chain's merchandise evolution that started when the company began to sell Italian charm bracelets a few years ago. Charms expanded into jewelry and jewelry grew into fashion accessories, which today represent 20 percent of the chain's merchandise mix for new stores.
"This new category mix allows us to capture a broader customer base," says Petersen.
Other new non-country merchandise categories and their percentage of total inventory include spa (6 percent), baby (3 percent), pet (3 percent) and home fragrance (4 percent).
The first Apricot Lane store in an outlet center opened June 1 in Tanger Outlet Center in Locust Grove, Ga., and another was set to open a month later in the Tanger center in Commerce, Ga. A handful of Apricot Lane stores in conventional retail environments have also opened, and a few Country Clutter stores have been converted to the new name.
For now, Petersen says both names will be used, depending on the wishes of franchisees.
"As a company, we're positioned to use both names," Petersen says. "Apricot Lane will continue to thrive, and we will continue to make the Country Clutter name available when it makes sense.
Country Clutter Named #1 Gift Franchise, 4th Year in a Row
Vacaville, CA - Among franchise business leaders, there are just a few yet critical measurements that tell their business story and answer the questions: How is this franchise company doing? Where is it relative to its competitors? One of these annual report cards comes from the editorial staff of "Entrepreneur", a national magazine that touts itself as "the small business authority". The magazine's monthly audience of more than 2.1 million readers seems to indicate that the designation is well accepted.Annually for the past 23 years, Entrepreneur focuses a light on franchise business opportunities available in the U.S. and abroad. The
January 2003 edition is the latest of these reports. Among the results is the naming of a leader in the new category of Gifts & Flowers.
Country Clutter, a franchise business operated by Country Visions of Vacaville, California, is ranked #1 in Gifts & Flowers this year. Country Clutter received the #1 rating for three years in the category formerly known as Retail Gifts. The evaluation criteria includes a number of factors such as financial strength and stability, the system's growth rate, the number of years a company has been in business and the length of time it has
been franchising. Also considered are start-up costs for franchise owners, litigation history, percentage of franchise terminations, and whether the company
"Though good news is scarce in today's economy, thousands of franchisees have found steady success in franchising. And with many laid off from or quitting their corporate jobs, thousands more are lining up in hopes of finding their calling among the franchises you'll see in Entrepreneur's 23rd Annual Franchise 500.
"The initial Franchise 500 in 1980 was the first ranking of franchises in the industry. Though we've since noticed a smattering of imitators, Entrepreneur's Franchise 500 is still the best and most comprehensive rating of franchises in the world. Over the years, we have polished and perfected our ranking procedure, giving us a formula that accurately identifies today's top franchise opportunities for you." (Entrepreneur, 2002)
The Country Clutter franchise stores feature a range of product lines in the categories of gifts, collectibles, and home decor. Whereas many corporate stores sell volumes of low-priced, foreign-produced products, the Country Clutter customer appreciates the quality and classic American styling of recognized brand-name product lines. According to Country Visions' Chief Executive Officer, Ken Petersen, "We take the time to build relationships with our suppliers. We provide information about market trends and suggest new product ideas. This puts the Country Clutter stores in a priority position for new product introductions and to obtain and sell some of the harder-to- find and limited edition items – all competitive advantages."
But the qualities that took Country Clutter stores to the top of the list don't stop with products and inventories that meet consumer desires. The Country Visions organization that supports its 50 stores places emphasis on a philosophy of meeting or exceeding the expectations of its customers -- the franchise owners. According to Petersen, "We continue to expand and improve upon the business systems that support our franchises. Our growth is confirmation that our training, operational and marketing programs are working. But we also believe that good is not good enough. This is not a static organization." From all appearances, Country Visions is an organization poised for growth and capable of responding quickly to market trends -- where ever those trends may go for this retail category.
Country Clutter wins 21st Ranking for Franchisee Satisfaction
"In terms of a business format, franchising is the best guarantee of success," says Chalwood, president and COO of The Uniglobe Group, an international travel retailer. "You're in business for yourself –but not by yourself. But the bottom line is that for franchisors to be successful, franchisees have to be successful."
In May of 2000, SUCCESS Magazine commissioned the University of North Carolina Research Unit, in Chapel Hill, to gather information about U.S. franchisors from their franchisees to provide a ranking of these businesses by the people who know them best.
Researchers began with a list of last year's Franchise Gold 200 winners chosen from the results of a survey conducted by Erdos & Morgan, an independent marketing and research firm based in New York City. More than 2,500 franchisors and related professionals were contacted. Companies were compared based on four major indicators: financial performance; corporate management, growth, and stability; franchisor/franchisee relationship; and opportunities for growth.
In the Franchisee Satisfaction Ranking, it was the franchisees' turn to grade the franchisor. Unit owners were chosen at random and asked to respond to questions related to their satisfaction overall and in the areas of finances, training, and field support. Their responses were based on a scale of 1 to 5 (dissatisfied to most satisfied). Points were awarded for each answer, and the company received a star for each increment of 20 points toward a perfect score of 100.
Overall satisfaction was given a weight in the rankings of 40 percent. The other three categories (financial, training, and field support) accounted for 20 percent each of the total score.
Out of SUCCESS Magazine's Franchise Gold 200, Country Clutter, rated 21st in Franchisee Satisfaction! Country Clutter earned a full five stars in each category: overall satisfaction, financial satisfaction, quality of training, and quality of field support.