Shaw, co-CEO Brenda Maready and others in the company’s central franchise organization – Monkee’s Franchising LLC – have an intense process through which they choose franchisees. Prospective owners are invited to a “Discovery Day” that includes interviews. “One of the first questions we ask people is if they will be at the store themselves or if they’ll have a manager run it instead,” Maready says. “We feel that stores where the franchisee is not intimately involved in are not as successful; we’re looking for a personal approach.”
Shaw opened the first Monkee’s store near the beach in Wilmington, N.C., as a shoe store in 1995. One of her early customers was Maready, who sought advice about opening her own boutique store in Winston-Salem, N.C. Over time, the two developed a partnership that would lead them to franchise the concept. Today there are stores in Alabama, North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Monkee’s boutiques will open in early 2016 in Stuart, Fla., and Virginia Beach, Va.
A Support System
Franchise owners include mother/daughter teams as well as young women looking to start their own business. The company’s goal is to open four to six new stores a year. “That’s our capacity,” Maready says. “We feel everyone deserves equal attention.”
The Monkee’s organization supports its franchisees in a number of ways, including helping them find the right location for their stores. “We study locations very seriously,” Maready says, noting the company regularly conducts demographic research.
Once locations are found, Monkee’s merchandisers help owners stock their shelves. This includes offering guidance on ordering as well as budgeting. Although many Monkee’s stores carry similar kinds of merchandise including shoes, accessories and apparel from many leading high-fashion brands, stock can also vary by store. “Franchisees can order as they see fit for their store,” Shaw says.
A Comfortable Place
During initial training, new franchisees meet with the boutique design consultant for Monkee’s. Each location is designed to have a personality of its own with unique fabrics, antiques and decor while maintaining the common elements customers recognize. Gleaming white cabinetry, yellow walls, chandeliers and a lounge-friendly shoe gallery are all part of the signature look. The design is patterned after that of Shaw’s initial store in Wilmington, which is still open.
“There are plenty of boutiques and department stores around, but none of them really had the effect of being in someone’s living room,” she says. “When you walk into one of our stores, you can see that it’s a very cozy, warm place where people can relax with a cup of coffee and chat. We want each store to reflect the personality of its owner, but when people walk in, we want them to immediately know they’re in a Monkee’s store.”
The décor of Monkee’s stores reflects Shaw and Maready’s goal of making them comfortable places to shop. “We don’t have a hard sell approach or boss people around; if you want our help with something, it’s there, or you can feel free to walk around and browse,” Maready says.
The items that can found in Monkee’s stores vary in type and price, making it a place for anyone to shop, regardless of the amount of money they have on hand. “We have things that cost between $5 and $5,000,” she adds. “If you walk into one of our stores and want a gift for $20 you can get it, and if you want a vintage Chanel pocketbook, you can get that, too.”
Shaw and Maready’s philosophy of making their franchise stores comfortable is echoed in their managerial approach. “Our personal approach to business can be best summed up in three words: ‘loving your work,’” Maready says.