By Maggie Srygley
The Red Dress Boutique started out in 2005 as a small business in Athens, Ga., owned and operated by a young woman whose dreams couldn’t be confined by the slow pace of 9 to 5 cubicle work.
Fast-forward seven years and the Red Dress Boutique has acquired a new location, nationwide recognition and revenue that has increased by 800 percent.
The Red Dress has gained rapid attention through social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. With nearly 130,000 “likes” online, the boutique is able to keep shoppers up-to-date on new inventory, up-coming items and re-stocks.
Originally, the store’s primary form of marketing was word of mouth. University of Georgia students were frequent shoppers – and began to spread the word to friends at other universities. That’s how business first began growing.
Owner Diana Best Harbour, says that she has always wanted the store to offer clothing that is both affordable and chic – perfectly suited for her “target” college girl customer.
“The Red Dress girl is playful, she is fun, she doesn’t take herself too seriously and she also doesn’t take her wardrobe too seriously,” Harbour says. “We are known for selling a ton of color, and when people come shop with us, they know to expect playful fashion that will make you smile walking out the door.”
Harbour’s life-long dream was to own a clothing store. When she decided to make it happen, she and husband Josh sold their home in Columbus, Ga., and set out for Athens. Once there, they couldn’t afford to buy a new place: “We slept on an air mattress in four different friend’s apartments for a whole year! We literally lived out of a suitcase.”
As clientele grew, so did the store. Then, social media happened. Facebook became an epidemic and allowed small stores like The Red Dress Boutique to go nationwide. The couple found their target market to be in the heart of Athens, near the university. So they packed up shop and moved the store yet again from their original location to a spot right across the street from the arches of campus.
The Red Dress Boutique is one of very few stores of its kind that has had such success with social media because they have been there since the beginning. In the early days of Facebook, the Harbours kept pushing forward when the company would shut down the store’s site because it was being used for business. Finally, Facebook caught up with the Harbours: Company “pages” were created and businesses were allowed to operate via Facebook.
Since then, other small boutiques have taken a page from the The Red Dress’ social media playbook, marketing themselves in the same way with the same looks. To date, few – if any — have experienced the same sort of success.
Harbour notes that customer service has also played a key role in the boutique’s growth. “Social media can work in your favor or against it,” she says. “If you have great customer service, you tell 5,000 friends. But it can also work against you. If you have bad customer service — same thing, they tell 5,000 friends. We stay on top of it making sure our customers are taken care of.”
With the expansion of the business, The Red Dress has opened a 20,000- square-foot warehouse to store back stock and online merchandise. The same space houses their corporate offices which take care of all online orders. This allows orders to be processed and shipped right away — and leads customers like Jamie Rogers to leave posts like this one on the company website: “I received my purse today!!! LOVE IT!!! You ladies have the best of the best when it comes to customer service! Thanks again!!” Customer Elizabeth Hortman posted: “Got my maxi dress that I ordered today and I absolutely love it!! Thanks so much! That was extremely fast!”
It isn’t just online satisfaction that customers rave about. Even with so much online growth, The Red Dress has maintained the local store and stayed true to their original clients. Customers still come in to try on clothes and get the full shopping experience. Window displays are eye-catching to draw in almost every girl who passes by. The employees are helpful and friendly and excited to help customers find the perfect outfit.
Store manager Emily Srygley says, “I think people come to the store because they know that they want something fun and colorful like the perfect birthday dress or date night outfit and they won’t break the bank while doing it. I get excited to know that I am selling a piece to someone that they will take photos in and remember for a long time.”
So what’s next? The Red Dress is researching international shipping options while still expanding across the U.S. Harbour says, “With the beauty of the internet there really is no limit to how high you can go.”
For information about The Red Dress Boutique, visit www.reddressboutique.com or