Words: Jess Graves | Photos: Brie Williams and Chris Edwards
Already the owner and buyer of celebrated boutique Capitol in Charlotte, North Carolina, Laura Vinroot Poole noticed there was a huge barrier between small business owners and the costly investment of a well-done e-commerce site. So, she created an app - called House Account - to bring it down. 450+ shops later, it's completely disrupting the mobile retail game.
It's such a first world dilemma, but a dilemma nonetheless; you want to shop locally, but buying online is so easy. Too easy. Despite the fact there are cute boutiques in town, there ShopBop is, shiny and white, gleaming like a new penny, bursting with a handy link to new arrivals. Three clicks and a box is on the way, and you didn't even have to put your face on. How's an independent retailer supposed to compete? It costs money to build and maintain an e-commerce presence, lots of money. And even then, how do you do it really well?
Laura Vinroot Poole found herself facing that very question at her Charlotte, North Carolina shop, Capitol. She wanted a piece of the mobile retail pie, but found the cost of entry too high. She needed an easy, low-cost way to reach her customers and find new ones online, and she didn't want to sacrifice the feeling of her shop or worse, customer service.
So back to the question at hand. How do you shop your favorite indie boutique online? The answer, as it turns out, is a phrase we've heard a million times: there's an app for that.
Poole created House Account, a mobile shopping platform with an Instagram-like feed of product from local boutiques and designers across the country. Photos are taken in-shop by its stylists, salespeople and buyers, then uploaded to the stream, so you don't lose the aesthetic of or connection to the retailer.
These days, shops number at more than 450 with more added all the time, and include boutiques we know and love, like Charleston's Finicky Filly and Hampden Clothing, Atlanta's W.Port and B.D. Jeffries, Palm Beach's Mecox and House of Lavande, and designers like K.Slademade and Twine & Twig. Shoppers can also discover new boutiques with geo-location features when traveling, chat with their favorite shop owners and stylists, browse new arrivals, and make purchases directly within the app.
Designers and shops can also communicate directly with each other within House Account – this is especially useful for designers trying to reach potential new retail accounts and shop owners looking to carry new, undiscovered lines.
Users can also follow other shoppers, shop owners, tastemakers, editors, bloggers and more to keep up with who/what their friends and influencers are liking and following. Keep an eye out for us, too - The Love List has guest-edited a list of feed favorites within the app.
1. What was the impetus for starting House Account?
I started House Account out of frustration with the lack of technological tools on the market for specialty stores. There were applications that were close but none that really understood our needs, or the reality of the way we run our businesses. Luckily I had a friend and now partner that is lifetimes smarter than I am and had the ability to create the tool that we felt was missing from the market.
2. Did you have an existing network of other small businesses that you wanted to reach out to?
Luxury fashion is sort of strange...it is extremely competitive and there are rarely opportunities to openly connect with other stores. I was tired of feeling alone in my frustrations and was pretty sure that my competitors had the same problems. It was natural to share the product with others because it was helping me so much and one of the nicest things about House Account has been the opportunity to create a forum for all of us. It is a way for us to band together and work towards making our businesses better.
3. Was there a learning curve for the boutique-driven customer to learn to shop via app? How quickly did you see it pick up?
Not really...the customer understood it and connected with House Account immediately because they are comfortable with e-commerce. The hardest part has been coaxing the store owners to use best practices and take time from their day to take photos and post on the app. It's hard to ask people to change the way that they do business, but we've found that if they use the app, it really works.